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Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: Some PUA payments grind to halt amid Hawaii’s push to end fraud

Question: I had been on PUA for several weeks and it was going fine and all of the sudden my payments just stopped. No more deposits. They are asking for a lot more information than I already provided. What is going on? Are these messages for real? How long will it take for them to resume payments?

Answer: Yours is among the deluge of questions we’ve received about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance since payments lagged or even ground to a halt for legitimate Hawaii claimants after the state stepped up anti-fraud efforts.

PUA is the federally funded jobless benefit for people who aren’t eligible for standard unemployment insurance, such as the wholly self-employed, and who have lost income because of COVID-19. The online application process was initially hit hard by offshore thieves who used stolen identities to siphon funds meant for Hawaii residents. Now processing is much slower as employees of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and Department of Taxation take extra steps to verify or re-verify each claim.

When you log in to your PUA account online, if your weekly claim is shown as “pending” or “processing,” there is a problem to resolve before payments can resume, according to the PUA website. Commonly the problem is that a claimant’s identity or work authorization needs to be validated, or that the person has claims pending simultaneously in PUA and the standard unemployment insurance system, which is not allowed.

Log into your PUA account to review specific web messages and letters, to which you should respond as directed. If you had also filed for UI, log into your UI account to review your claim and any messages there.

As to whether “these messages are for real,” yes, generally, as long as the messages to which you refer are ones you see after logging into your PUA account. Be sure that you have logged into your PUA account to view specific instructions and are not falling for spam or scams posted elsewhere.

Claimants may be asked to upload such verification as a photo of themselves holding their Hawaii photo ID close to their face; their complete 2019 federal income tax return, including all supporting schedules; and other information.

Since paying at least $15 million in fraudulent claims, the state has increased verification efforts on all claims. The extra steps helped thwart at least $76 million in fraudulent claims, which were blocked before payment, but also delayed payments to legitimate Hawaii claimants who desperately need the money.

William Kunstman, a spokesman for the state DLIR, said there is a “significant delay and backlog” in PUA processing, but he could not say how long it generally takes to resume payments on a pending account. Delays of several weeks are not uncommon, he said.

Q: Regarding the COVID-19 preflight testing to bypass quarantine after Aug. 1, one issue that I have not heard anyone address is in regard to returning residents. Hawaii’s plan (which I understand is still being adjusted) will require pretesting and proof of a negative result within a 72-hour period. However, here in Washington state at least, and nationwide as far as I can tell, all providers I can find, public and private, require an in-state ID or driver’s license to get the test. How does a returning resident meet that requirement?

A: Hawaii’s state government is trying to forge specific agreements with providers to serve Hawaii travelers, whether the travelers are from that state or Hawaii residents returning home. So a provider’s general rules for testing, such as having to be from that state, or having to have symptoms of the disease, or having a doctor’s prescription, would not apply. We emphasize that this is the plan, not yet set in stone; the state has yet to release many details.


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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