The state unemployment insurance trust fund has taken a huge financial hit — $31.4 million was paid out just last week alone in state and federal money.
So far more than 244,000 Hawaii filings have been made in the wake of COVID-19. That’s overwhelmed the antiquated system and created lengthy waits. Some Hawaii applicants fear the money will run out before they get what’s owed to them.
State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations director Scott Murakami said today that the state has applied for a line of credit from the U.S. Treasury and that the money will be there. Murakami was a guest on this morning’s Star-Advertiser COVID-19 Care Conversation sponsored by the Hawaii Executive Collaborative.
Murakami reassured the public that the state is working hard to reduce the wait to get through to the system and get an unemployment insurance check. But clearly Hawaii’s unemployed workers and those that want to see them assisted promptly are growing impatient.
Late last week, Murakami said DLIR was notified that its web service had been getting “taxed by bots and people were writing scripts.”
“Those things clearly are hurting the public good and impeding our ability to service the community,” he said. “We did aggregate data and send it to the Attorney General for prosecution.”
Murakami said he understands that those doing this “might think this is a more efficient way to do this.”
But he said, “You are not only hurting us, you are hurting your community, your neighbors and your friends.”
Murakami said the department has taken steps to be more proactive and efficient. The system rings busy after 115 calls are pending so Murakami said the state is launching a third call center at the Hawaii Convention Center.
Murakami said the state also has tried to reduce system traffic by creating an inquiry portal for claimants to check their claim status. Those that haven’t received back pay and are entitled to it also should email the department at firstname.lastname@example.org rather than visit the site.
State volunteers are undergoing training to help the state process claims, Murakami said. On average, it’s taking 15 days to get checks into claimants’ hands if their claims are error-free, he said. Workers whose claims are pending should still file weekly claim certification, Murakami said. Those that haven’t heard back in three weeks should probably file new claims, he said.
Murakami said workers with existing claims should start seeing an extra $600 a week in federal funds from the CARES Act on Wednesday to augment their state claims. But it’s going to take longer for gig workers to get their federal funds, he said. Self-employed workers that have applied through the state have been denied with the exception of Uber and Lyft, which the state considers covered employees who may receive state funds. Murakami said state unemployment insurance trust money is not available to gig workers outside of Uber and Lyft so their claims need to be processed through a different system set up to distribute the federal CARES Act funds.
DLIR or another state agency must create a separate in-house system to process gig requests. DLIR had expected an in-house system to launch in early May, but Murakami said it met with challenges accessing 1099 tax information.
DLIR has reached out to get assistance from the state Department of Taxation, he said. Discussions have ranged from getting access to the verification data to actually having the tax department build and run the gig distribution system itself, Murakami said.