comscore Kokua Line: Some Hawaii gig workers in limbo; need denial to get new aid | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: Some Hawaii gig workers in limbo; need denial to get new aid

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Scott Murakami, director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, spoke during a press conference, March 19. At the rate laid out by Murakami at a legislative hearing last week, it could take at least five weeks and possibly more than two months to process tens of thousands pending UI claims. Processing of PUA claims, meanwhile, isn’t even expected to begin until about May 15.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Scott Murakami, director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, spoke during a press conference, March 19. At the rate laid out by Murakami at a legislative hearing last week, it could take at least five weeks and possibly more than two months to process tens of thousands pending UI claims. Processing of PUA claims, meanwhile, isn’t even expected to begin until about May 15.

Question: I am confused about applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and I think the state is too. Their instructions have been conflicting. Do we have to be rejected for regular Unemployment Insurance before we can apply for PUA or not?

Answer: It depends. “Individuals whose sole income is through self-employed activities can file for PUA without first being denied for UI. However, individuals who have income from other employment, like being an employee of an employer that took taxes out of your paycheck, must file for regular UI and must be found ineligible for regular UI first, before filing for PUA,” Bill Kunstman, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said Friday.

Anyone who earned more than about $120 in calendar year 2019 from an employer (or employers) that took taxes out of their paycheck must first apply for regular unemployment insurance, the DLIR website said as of Friday afternoon.

The PUA form geared to self-employed individuals, independent contractors and gig workers is now online; applications may be submitted, but they aren’t being processed yet. This has prompted questions from many such workers, who said they’ve filed for regular UI as the DLIR initially advised, but have heard nothing back, even weeks later.

Having been neither approved nor denied for regular UI, they’re now asking whether they can go ahead and file for PUA too, or, alternatively, withdraw an unresolved UI application and apply instead for PUA.

As of early Saturday, the answers to those questions were no. The DLIR’s website stated:

Q: If I have already applied for regular UC (unemployment compensation), should I also apply for PUA?

A: “No, you should not apply for PUA if you have a pending application for regular UC. If you have applied for and did not qualify or were denied regular UC, then you should apply for PUA if you are out of work due to COVID-19. If you are eligible for or receiving regular UC, you may neither apply for nor will be eligible for PUA.”

Q: I applied for regular UC, but I have not received a decision regarding whether I am eligible. Can I withdraw my regular UC application and apply for PUA?

A: “No, you cannot withdraw a regular UC application in order to file for PUA. You must wait until you have been denied regular UC benefits before you can apply for PUA. If your claim for regular UC is approved, you must exhaust all of those benefits, including extensions, before you can apply for PUA.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down vast swaths of the U.S. economy, Congress passed and President Trump approved the CARES Act in late March, boosting traditional unemployment insurance and extending unemployment benefits to people who previously didn’t qualify. These are distinct programs. Traditional UI covers employees for whom employers paid payroll taxes — for example, people whose income is reported on W-2 forms. PUA is for the self-employed, freelancers and others ineligible for traditional UI; for example, people whose income is reported on 1099-MISC forms. A person cannot receive both UI or PUA at the same time. In Hawaii, the maximum weekly payment per person in either program is $1,248, Kunstman said. The oft-cited $600 a week is but a portion of either payment, he said.

UI’s and PUA’s separate online applications are found on the labor department’s website, labor.hawaii.gov.

At the rate laid out by DLIR director Scott Murakami at a legislative hearing last week, it could take at least five weeks and possibly more than two months to process tens of thousands pending UI claims. Processing of PUA claims, meanwhile, isn’t even expected to begin until about May 15.

State Sen. Laura Thielen, who processes unemployment claims as a volunteer, is calling on the Legislature and Gov. David Ige to get money in unemployed people’s pockets now. Read about her plan on her Facebook page, @Senator LauraThielen. We’ll write more about it next week.


Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email kokualine@staradvertiser.com.


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