Question: Is there any update on your July 9 article 808ne.ws/july9kline) about the PUA payments being slowed down? I am one of those who has been waiting forever and I sent in everything they asked for and heard nothing back; still pending. There’s no way to call and my help ticket got no response. I know there’s been fraud but it’s not by me. I was totally self-employed and I’m running out of money. I have a Hawaii license with the gold star, which I sent a picture of, holding next to my cheek, as requested.
Answer: After weeks of asking the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations about stalled Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims, and asking Gov. David Ige at a news conference Thursday about what claimants described as an inefficient ID verification system and lack of communication from DLIR, we have progress to report: With assistance from the counties, DLIR has started cross-checking PUA claimants’ identities against Hawaii driver’s licenses, state IDs or motor vehicle records, which should speed the verification process.
Of 22,000 claimants requiring additional ID verification, 3,900 were approved Thursday night, freeing their pending accounts for payments, which should be deposited within a few days, DLIR spokesman Bill Kunstman said Friday.
He said it would “take a few more (data) runs” to get through the remaining 18,100 claims needing ID verification. He could not say exactly when that would occur.
Sheri Kajiwara, director of Honolulu County’s Department of Customer Services, said DLIR doesn’t have unfettered access to the DMV data and is supplied only what it needs for confirmation.
“We felt this was the best course of action to serve the public under current conditions, and our city Department of Information Technology has strict control over the process,” she said in an email Friday.
PUA is meant for Hawaii residents who are out of work due to the pandemic but who don’t qualify for standard unemployment insurance, such as the self-employed. As you noted in your question, and the governor emphasized at the news conference, fraudulent claims have been a problem. Legitimate claimants can be stuck in the processing backlog, due in part to anti-fraud efforts.
We asked Kunstman whether DLIR also would cross-check claimants who were deemed eligible for PUA based on their work history but ultimately denied payments because DLIR had requested numerous identity documents and not received them all by a deadline. He didn’t know, but said he would find out.
Numerous readers have told us they tried to upload the requested documents but were unable to and that the DLIR did not respond to their pleas for help online. The PUA program does not provide customer service in person or by phone.
In particular, people who had uploaded a verifiable image of themselves holding their Hawaii “gold star” license or state ID next to their face, as requested by PUA, wondered why that was insufficient. The “gold star” on a Hawaii driver’s licenses or state ID signifies the credential complies with the U.S. REAL ID Act. To obtain it, the holder had to appear in person with documents verifying their proof of legal presence in the United States, legal name, date of birth, Social Security number and Hawaii principal residence — the DMV would have proof of all that. So it makes sense that any PUA claimant holding a Hawaii “gold star” license or ID who was denied on the basis of ID verification should receive the same kind of DMV cross-check the DLIR is now providing claimants in the pending category.
As we said, Kunstman didn’t know whether that would happen automatically. We’ll follow up on that aspect of this otherwise encouraging development in PUA’s ID verification process.
Overall, 93,994 PUA applications were received in Hawaii through July 14, and 44,298 were denied, the vast majority for identity verification issues or due to the person being eligible or potentially eligible for standard unemployment insurance, according to a DLIR news release.
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 email@example.com.