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Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: PUA doesn’t withhold taxes, so set some of the money aside

Question: My girlfriends and I have been trying to figure out a way to have our federal and state taxes withheld from our PUA payments. There doesn’t seem to be any way or link on the PUA website to do this. I have gone to an accountant and his best advice was to call unemploy- ment/state labor relations. I have not been successful in getting through. Since I only started my business at the end of last year, I don’t know how to file estimated taxes. Can you help us find a way to have taxes withheld from our PUA payments?

Answer: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, commonly known as PUA, is the federally funded weekly benefit for people whose income is disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic but who aren’t eligible for standard unemployment insurance. PUA may cover qualified business owners, self-employed individuals and independent contractors, to name a few examples from the program’s website.

PUA payments are subject to federal and Hawaii state income tax, but PUA won’t withhold these taxes for you, as the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations does for people receiving standard unemployment insurance. That’s why there’s no link on the general PUA website or within your PUA online account to request withholding; the service isn’t available.

Just last week, another reader asked Kokua Line to spread the word that income taxes aren’t being withheld, because so many of the PUA claimants she knows aren’t setting money aside to pay these taxes themselves. Moreover, some claimants may be required to pay estimated taxes every quarter and could be fined next tax season (for the 2020 tax year) if they fail to pay enough federal and state income tax throughout the year.

PUA has some information about this on its website, at 808ne.ws/puatax, which includes links to instructions explaining how to estimate income taxes and submit payments. For Hawaii instructions, read Tax Facts 2019-3, at 808ne.ws/ hiest. For federal instructions, read IRS Publication 505, at 808ne.ws/fedes; focus on Chapter 2.

If you’re looking for a rule of thumb on how much of your PUA money to set aside, standard UI claimants can choose to have 15% of their benefits withheld for income taxes — 10% for federal and 5% for state, according to the UI claimant handbook.

You also raised another issue, about trouble communicating with PUA. There’s no customer service number to call or an open office to visit. Requests for customer support are funneled online, through a contact form linked to the PUA website. Here’s the full link: lbr.force.com/PUASupport/s/contactsupport.

Countless other PUA claimants have made similar complaints, not about tax withholding necessarily, but about needing information, updates or action from PUA and not receiving a response. As we’ve previously reported, legitimate PUA claimants are jumping through extra hoops to prove their eligibility — a reaction to massive fraud attempts from offshore — and have seen their payments frozen or delayed during the intensified process. Many say they haven’t heard back from PUA even after submitting all the additional verification, or that there’s no way to upload the requested information in their online accounts. We are following up on these complaints.

Lastly, your accountant steered you wrong — DLIR doesn’t want PUA claimants calling or emailing through the standard UI channels; as mentioned, these are separate programs.

Q: We filed our Hawaii tax return in mid-March but have not yet received our refund. Is there a way to check on the status of the refund?

A: Yes, you may do so online or by phone.

To check online, go to the state Department of Taxation’s website at tax.hawaii.gov and click on the header that says “Check Your Income Tax Refund Status.” Doing so will take you to the refund search function of Hawaii Tax Online, where you must submit your Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number and the exact refund amount from your tax return to determine the status of your refund.

To check by phone, use the Interactive Voice Response System. Call 800-222-3229 and press option 3. A recorded message will prompt you to input your SSN and refund amount to hear your status.

Recent filers should not rush to check their refund status, DOTAX says. It says to wait about nine or 10 weeks after mailing or e-­filing your return, and two weeks longer than that if you requested your refund as a paper check instead of direct deposit.


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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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