Some improvements at Unemployment Office reported, but issues persist

Updated: Apr. 2, 2021 at 11:53 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - There is good news to report from the state’s Unemployment Office: For the vast majority of Hawaii’s jobless workers, the latest round of federal relief from the American Rescue Plan was brought online smoothly with fewer lags in payments.

“It is our top priority right now to ensure claimants experience a seamless transition as the federal unemployment benefit programs are extended through the first week of September,” said Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

“In anticipation that the final version of the legislation extending the CARES Act programs would be absent major changes, we proactively started programming the changes that are saving thousands the financial hardship and lag in payments we saw earlier this year due to a delay in federal action.”

Many claimants have also praised the DLIR for improvements with this latest round of federal relief, saying it was much easier to apply for and that people are being paid on time.

“I was really quite impressed to see that we had really no gap - maybe a week before people started to get paid instead of two weeks. It’s a big improvement for people who have no issues but for people who have issues like my roommate — he is going 20 weeks now without being paid. It’s still a problem,” said Dave Moskowitz, an unemployment claimant and activist for Hawaii’s jobless.

Moskowitz’s roommate is in the same situation as many other claimants who are waiting on the PEUC extension from September. Their claims are in pending status due to overpayments by the DLIR.

Elizabeth Preston lives in Kona and lost her job last March when the pandemic hit Hawaii.

Preston was also overpaid at one point and, as a result, hasn’t collected unemployment benefits since September. She says she just needs to clear up the mistake, but can’t get through to the DLIR.

“I called Tuesday 78 times and just got a recording that they were busy and to please call back,” Preston said. “They are making it so hard. Before, when you first called them you could just press one but now you have to sit and listen to the whole message it takes a minute and then you can push one and then you get the same message that they are too busy call back and it’s very frustrating, you feel like nobody wants to help you. Nobody is helping me.”

The DLIR has contracted 25 investigators to handle overpayments through the Idaho-based company Solid State (the same tech firm tasked with replacing the state’s 1980s-era mainframe).

A DLIR spokesperson also said that claimants will soon be able to book teleconference appointments with unemployment staff beginning April 5.

Again this week, DLIR declined an on-camera interview.

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