(Hawaii News Now) ‘Financially sad’: Months later, frustrated residents still waiting for unemployment benefits

(Source: Hawaii News Now)

By Casey Lund| September 4, 2020 at 6:17 AM HST – Updated September 4 at 6:38 AM 

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) – As Hawaii braces for even more people who will likely lose their jobs because of the pandemic, the state is still trying to address around 11,000 unemployment claims.

The latest number from the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations show Hawaii’s unemployment rate is just under 14% — an improvement from the worst numbers back in May, when more than 23% of the state’s workers were jobless.

Still, there are many people who are still waiting on benefits owed to them and haven’t received any assistance since March.

Caroline Hernandez has owned a party rental business with her husband since 2015, and only worked part time to supplement that income when things were slow. 

She was denied unemployment early on and was told that she should apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits as a small business owner. She hasn’t been able to do that because her claim is still active in the DLIR system, even though she was denied.

Hernandez said she has all but given up, and the most frustrating part of her whole ordeal is that despite calling non-stop every day, it seems as though no one is listening.

“I’m digging into my kid’s savings,” Hernandez said. “That’s financially sad. You know, that’s money that I’m saving towards my kid’s college fund. Why, why do I have to do that? You know, this is, this is something that they created for people who are small business owners, self employed.”

Hernandez considers herself lucky as her husband has been able to receive some benefits through the state’s dysfunctional unemployment system. However, she says that money isn’t enough to cover her family’s expenses.

“I have to request to make payments on my rent,” she said. “I have to request to make payments on my electricity. I’m a business owner. People are asking me for a refund. How do I refund people when I have no income?” 

The DLIR claims that it has fixed problems with the mainframe and portal access and has hired 49 additional staffers with plans to hire 41 more. It’s not clear how long it will take to get them on board and processing claims.

Meanwhile, there is a glimmer of hope: DLIR received approval to pay four weeks of benefits in a new unemployment insurance program called the Lost Wages Assistance or LWA Program.

Copyright 2020 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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