(Hawaii News Now) State slowly makes progress on jobless claims, but many still not getting answers

(SOURCE: HAWAII NEWS NOW)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) – Since the pandemic started eight months ago, unemployment has been one of the most pressing issues facing Hawaii residents. Many of them need financial assistance and at the very least, they need answers about why they are not receiving unemployment benefits.

The state has paid out nearly $4 billion in unemployment benefits this year, and the most recent numbers out Thursday show a greater week-to-week improvement in new weekly initial unemployment claims. This week it was down to 4,277 from 4,700 — a drop of more than 400.

Still, there are major issues.

Despite the new call center, people with relatively minor problems that are holding up their claims can’t get through.

The state’s contracted new call center, through a mainland company called Maxims, reports 200 dedicated customer service representatives are handling incoming inquiries and another 100 staff are assigned to adjudicating claims. They report receiving around 5,000 calls a day and resolving close to 10,000 claimant issues each week.

Single mother Amanda Alvarado hasn’t been one of the call center’s success stories. She claims she had a minor job separation issue that she needed to appeal and resolve.

After countless calls and emails, she was able to get a customer service representative to tell her an examiner would call her back in two weeks, but that time has passed and she says hasn’t been able to work or receive benefits since March.

“It’s incredibly frustrating because they’re bringing on all these people and it seems like what they’re saying is that the people who are answering the phone calls are (being paid) to tell us to wait and that doesn’t seem like the best allocation of funds, especially when the deadline’s coming up for all of the funding that was provided,” said Alvarado, who is referring to the remaining CARES act funding that the state has yet to spend.

That figure is more than $867 million, according the the Hawaii Data Collaborative.

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who sits on the coronavirus legislative committee, says that any unused funds leftover at the end of the December are going to get transferred automatically to the unemployment trust fund.

Dela Cruz says he know the situation is unacceptable and that the state shouldn’t be this far behind, eight months into the pandemic.

“That’s not just a case with Unemployment Insurance, but also the case with rental assistance,” Dela Cruz said. “We’re doing our best as part of the committee and on behalf of the Senate and the public to try to follow up with the departments, making sure that they’re on task, trying to offer any assistance that we can provide.

“The governor is currently working on his budget and within a month, we’ll see what kind of resources are going to be needed so that the departments can be as efficient and effective as possible.”

As always, Hawaii News Now has invited the DLIR to have someone available to interview during our weekly coverage and they said no one was available this week.

A DLIR spokesperson referred us to a statement from Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio which reads in part:

“We too are frustrated as the DLIR strives to comply with the requirements and constraints that are mandated during this unprecedented time in Hawaii’s history so that it can process your claims. I truly understand your frustrations when changes are made to your claims to comply with these requirements and how it is upsetting to you when you need us the most.”

Copyright 2020 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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