comscore Kokua Line: It’s possible to go to college without losing unemployment benefits | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: It’s possible to go to college without losing unemployment benefits

Question: I am furloughed from my job in the restaurant industry and am receiving unemployment benefits. I would like to return to school at the University of Hawaii-Manoa as a part-time student, but worry that I may become ineligible for unemployment if I enroll at a university. Do you have any information?

Answer: Enrolling in college won’t automatically disqualify you from continuing to receive unemployment benefits. What’s important is that you remain able and available to work, even while enrolled in college, said William Kunstman, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. For example, if your employer calls you back to work, and you refuse to go because your class schedule conflicts with your work schedule, then you’d no longer qualify for UI benefits.

“If an individual is able and available, they can choose to pursue an education and I would add that it appears that online-only education may become prevalent considering the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said, indicating that this may be an convenient option for people in your situation, as well as for those juggling school and work.

Q: My unemployment claims are pending since May 16. Last week I was able to contact the DLIR call center after 300-plus calls. I was told that there is a “significant delay and backlog” and my claims are being reviewed by an examiner (because on one claim I checked off that I was seeing a doctor for a cortisone shot on my coccyx), so please be patient as it will take weeks to get to my claim. Medical forms were completed and the health clearance was mailed to the Oahu claims office by the doctor. Since DLIR will finish my claims after July 25, will I lose out on the $600 weekly federal bonus for all the claims that were pending since May 16? I forgot to ask when I finally got through.

A: No, you won’t lose out, assuming that your pending claims are approved, which hinge on the examiner determining that you were able and available to work despite your medical condition and treatment.

Many other readers awaiting jobless benefits are asking this same question, as the week ending July 25 brings the last of the federal “plus up,” the extra $600 that boosted pay for those receiving benefits from Hawaii’s standard UI system or from the new, federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which is for the self-employed and others not eligible for traditional UI.

The DLIR has consistently said that valid claims filed while the plus-up was in effect but processed afterward would receive the money, and Deputy Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio reiterated that fact this week. “If anyone is still waiting on payments for any claims made from April 4 through July 25, you will be made whole and you will receive those (federal enhanced) benefits,” she said.

More than 200,000 UI or PUA claimants in Hawaii — and millions more across the country — await action by the U.S. Congress and Trump Administration on whether to extend the benefit, and at what amount.

House Democrats passed a bill two months ago that would extend the full amount ($600 weekly) through January, but Senate Republicans and the Trump Administration oppose full funding. As of deadline Friday, the Senate GOP and White House hadn’t agreed on a lower benefit, much less negotiated a deal with the House.

Q: When will the state start paying the extra $100 a week, now that the $600 federal plus-up is expiring?

A: That’s unclear. As of deadline Friday, Hawaii Gov. David Ige had not signed the bill that authorizes the additional money for people receiving Hawaii unemploy­ment insurance benefits.

The bill passed by the state Legislature authorizes $100 more a week for such claimants from Aug. 1 to Dec. 30, but only if the U.S. Congress does not extend a federal benefit of more than $300 a week.

Q: Is there a maximum age for filing for unemployment? I am a youthful 73 and always work retail. My store is closing and my neighbor says I should retire already but I can’t afford to retire. I have not quit my job, my job has quit me!

A: No, there’s no maximum filing age, Kunstman said. You should apply for unemployment benefits just as your younger colleagues will. The online filing system is at

Anyone using the system for the first time should read the site’s FAQs and watch the instructional videos before filing an initial claim, to avoid errors that slow down processing.

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

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