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Hawaii to apply for $300 federal unemployment weekly benefit program

Hawaii will apply for the Lost Wages Assistance Program, a $300 weekly benefit for unemployed workers that will replace the $600-per-week federal assistance that ended in July.

Gov. David Ige and Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Acting Director Anne Eustaquio announced the state’s intent to apply for the Federal Emergency Management Agency program today. Payments would be retroactive to Aug. 1.

“This will bring relief to many who are still unemployed due to the impact of the coronavirus on our economy. I’m taking this action to maximize all available federal funds to help people in Hawaii who are unemployed because of COVID-19,” Ige said in a statement.

President Donald Trump announced an executive order on Aug. 8 detailing the program.

Those who will be eligible for the FEMA program are unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19 and are eligible for at least $100 per week in unemployment from the following regular unemployment programs:

>> Unemployment Insurance (UI)

>> Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE)

>> Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Service members (UCX)

>> Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

>> Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

>> Extended Benefits (EB)

>> Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA)

Those who are not eligible for at least $100 per week in weekly unemployment benefits will not be eligible for the federal program. Bill Kunstman, spokesman for DLIR, said he isn’t sure how many people will not be eligible for the program.

Trump’s executive order describes a $400-per-week assistance program, with $300 from federal money and $100 from the states, but Kunstman said states had complained that they could not come up with the $100.

“The states basically turned around, and (said) … ‘Well, we’re desperately in need of money. We don’t have the money to come up with the $100,’” he said.

Instead, the states can now count $100 in regular unemployment benefits as the $100 from the states in the FEMA program.

“In effect, they’re only going to see a net increase of $300,” Kunstman said.

Currently, the Hawaii’s weekly unemployment benefits range from $5 to $648.

The program has limited funding, up to $44 billion from the Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Relief Fund. The program will end once that money is spent. It is also only eligible for weeks of unemployment ending no later than Dec. 6.

DLIR is preparing for applications in anticipation of the state’s approval into the program.

“The DLIR has already begun working to build a new program within the unemployment computer system to implement and pay LWA benefits,” Eustaquio said in a statement. “In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor concerning program administration, the state will work diligently to complete this process as quickly as possible.”

It’s not clear an application has been submitted, but Kunstman said if it hasn’t been done so today, an application will be submitted Wednesday. He said FEMA turns around applications in one or two days.

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