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Kokua Line: Worker who lost child care when schools closed can seek Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                People flocked to Ala Moana Regional Park to exercise and relax on May 11.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    People flocked to Ala Moana Regional Park to exercise and relax on May 11.

Question: I am one of those “gig workers” who had a delivery job. My license is fine and I would have kept doing it but since they closed the schools I had to stay home and take care of the kids because I couldn’t drag them around all day. Is there anything for workers like me?

Answer: Yes, if you are the children’s primary caregiver you may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which is processing now in Hawaii. Apply at pua.hawaii.gov/_/.

Other readers have asked for eligibility details for this new federally funded program, which is separate from standard unemployment compensation. PUA provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to eligible workers disrupted by the pandemic who don’t quality for standard UC, an insurance program funded by payroll taxes.

Here are the types of workers covered, who must have been prevented from working by at least one of the following COVID-19-related reasons, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (808ne.ws/DOLletter):

Workers who:

>> Are self-employed, including gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors.

>> Are seeking part-time employment.

>> Have an insufficient work history to qualify for UC benefits.

>> Have exhausted all rights to regular or extended UC benefits under state or federal law or to Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

>> Have been laid off from churches and religious institutions and are not eligible for benefits under state law.

>> Are otherwise not qualified for regular or extended UC benefits or PEUC.

Acceptable reasons for not working:

>> The individual or a member of their household has COVID-19.

>> A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work.

>> The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the public health emergency.

>> The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health-care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.

>> The individual was scheduled to start a job and can’t as a direct result of the public health emergency.

>> The individual has become the major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.

>> The individual has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19.

>> The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the public health emergency.

Certify your claims

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations says it’s easier for people in the standard unemployment compensation system to certify their claims now, thanks to technical fixes and an alphabetical honor system.

Filing a UC claim certification must be done online, at huiclaims.hawaii.gov/#/, said Bill Kunstman, a spokesman for the department. Claimants unfamiliar with the requirement can find video or PDF guides on the website.

The claimant must sign into their account weekly or biweekly (depending on their status) and answer questions verifying that they remain eligible. Answer “yes” to questions about seeking work, the DLIR says. The state has suspended the job-search requirement, but the form doesn’t reflect the waiver.

For weeks, readers reported being unable to certify claims because the overloaded system rejected their log-in attempts. Kunstman said Friday that the “high volume” rejections have been largely resolved by moving the certification process off the mainframe computer and having claimants file in alphabetical order. Claimants should certify according to the first letter of their last name, with Mondays reserved for A-G, Tuesdays for H-O and Wednesdays P-Z. Anyone who misses their day can certify Thursday through Sunday.

Kunstman said the new methods helped, as nearly 136,700 claims were certified Sunday through Thursday. However, he said, there should have been thousands more and the system could have accommodated them. Some claimants may not realize that they must certify on an ongoing basis to be paid after initial processing, he said.

As of Thursday, nearly 70% of unemployment claims on the mainframe had been processed, Kunstman said. That doesn’t include the PUA applications, which are processed separately.


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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