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Thousands of Hawaii workers left scrambling after losing federal unemployment benefits

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 9:14 AM HST|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 9:35 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Around 35,000 people statewide lost federal unemployment benefits over the holiday weekend. Now, many of the state’s unemployed aren’t sure what they will do as the pandemic drags on.

The programs that ended included support for gig workers and independent contractors who weren’t usually eligible for regular unemployment benefits paid through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation — or PEUC program that extended the normal 26 weeks worth of benefits to a max of 53 weeks — are also finished.

Many Hawaii workers, especially in the tourism industry, fear that with business slowing down, they will soon be out of options.

Nely Reinante is a housekeeper from Hilton Hawaiian Village who has been put back on “on-call” duty like 150 of her coworkers, and she hasn’t been called back since Aug. 23. With the slowdown in business and reduction in services like daily room cleaning, she’s worried about covering all of her expenses.

“There is no daily room cleaning and with the ending of unemployment, we will be forced to look for a job (where the pay) is two to three times lower than what we used to make, so how are we going to feed our family, pay our rent, our mortgage?” said Reinante.

Though, Reinante considers herself lucky. She was eligible to file the new initial claim this year, but because she only worked three months out of the year, the benefits she will receive will be for a lot less than if she had worked full time.

Eric Gill is financial security and treasurer for the Unite Here Local 5 union. He says his when asked if he feels the state is ready to support his members, if they lose work.

“It’s unfortunate that the government has done little for furloughed workers throughout the pandemic and now it is even worse. I mean basically, we went through the year and a half of federal relief, but the state did not step up and hasn’t yet stepped up and hasn’t yet committed to extending unemployment benefits,” said Gill.

The unions are also critical of the DLIR for not opening the state’s unemployment offices when they had recently planned to on Sept. 7.

Meanwhile, Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, director of the DLIR, said she feels the online and by phone appointments are the most efficient way to serve claimants.

“The efficiencies of this new appointment system have been fantastic. I think we’ve seen in the last couple weeks through the adjudication appointments and now yesterday, starting the hearings for PEUC and PUA and regular unemployment insurance, we’ve been able to take over a thousand or 1,400 individual appointments a week,” she said.

More resources for those who lost their federal benefits and need help with their next step can be found online.

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