Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio said her office has paid out 97% of the claims they have received since March, but she understands many people in Hawaii are still waiting for benefits and feeling frustrated by the process.
“We are working more hours than you would believe,” she said, with notable emotion and empathy in her voice.
“We feel for every single claimant out there. We know this is a hard time of the year. You all are hurting, you all need your benefits and we’re trying to get to them as quickly as possible.”
Since March 1, DLIR has received over 292,000 Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, another 82,000 claims for Extended Benefits (EB) or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), as well as 146,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) applications.
Hawaii has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, at 15.1% as of September. The need for for benefits has long exhausted the UI fund, which is now over $600 million in debt, and expected to be $1 billion behind by the end of the year.
Perreira-Eustaquio spoke in detail about each program, and when certain benefits expire. Because PEUC and PUA are funded through CARES Act money, those benefits will not be extended in 2021.
When CARES Act funding comes to an end at the end of next month, so too do many of the resources DLIR is relying on to process benefits, including 100 adjudicators who are combing through claims, additional staff processing claims at the Convention Center, along with much of the call center staff. Perreira-Eustaquio said right now, the call center is able to answer over 70% of the nearly 4,000 calls they receive daily.
There has been pressure for DLIR to open a physical office so that claimants can resolve their issues in person. Perreira-Eustaquio said it is something she and her staff discuss almost daily, and have also discussed creating an in-person appointment system, but at the moment there are no plans to do this.
“Right now opening our doors to everyone would be too much of an issue that I think we would not be able to handle. The flow of individuals, the crowd control, would be extremely difficult for local offices. I think we would get less work done than we do with the offices closed,” she explained.
“We would be helping the few and not the many. And my goals is to help the many. We need to help as many claimants as we possibly can.”
Watch the full interview with Perreira-Eustaquio via the video above.
Spotlight Hawaii, which shines a light on issues affecting Hawaii, airs live 10:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook page. Join Ryan Kalei Tsuji and Yunji de Nies this month for a conversation with guests. Click here to watch previous conversations.