comscore Kokua Line: Unknown number of Hawaii jobless won’t qualify for federal bonus pay | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: Unknown number of Hawaii jobless won’t qualify for federal bonus pay

Question: Is it true that if we make less than $100 a week on employment we won’t get the extra $300? Auwe! The people who make the least are getting the least help! There are a lot of us who were denied PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) and are stuck with hardly any UI.

Answer: Yes. The new program created by President Trump’s executive order will provide less money and to fewer people than did the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which paid $600 a week to people earning any amount of unemployment compensation. FPUC was approved by the U.S. House, Senate and the White House, but it expired in late July after the three sides couldn’t compromise on a deal to keep it going, even at a lesser amount.

The Trump Administration’s new program is called Lost Wages Assistance and operates through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Its $300 weekly bonus will be paid only to claimants whose unemployment weekly benefit amount is at least $100 and who certify that their unemployment or partial unemployment is due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said it doesn’t know how many Hawaii residents will be left out, because its computer system doesn’t compile the total number of claimants with a weekly benefit amount under $100. The DLIR is trying to figure out how to extract this information from its computer system.

Meanwhile, an informal poll of the Hawaii Unemployment Updates and Support Group on Facebook found dozens if not hundreds of people who will lose out because their WBAs range from $5 to $98 a week. In Hawaii, the WBA equals 1/21 of the highest-quarter wages in a claimant’s base period, up to a limit of $648, according to the DLIR.

Overall, the situation for many people out of work in Hawaii is dire, said Peter Yee, a moderator of the Facebook group, who lost his job with Hertz on Maui months ago. He spends hours each day helping people in the group get their claims moving with DLIR and has learned a lot about the arcane claims adjudication process.

“With the reported 10,000 claims pending DLIR action, we also have to remember there are thousands more that have been halted without due process, including PUA claims. A significant percentage of the remainder are job-separation issues. Friday’s news that DLIR is reaching out for pro bono labor indicates that they understand they must make more progress and their strategy came up short. Even with job- separation issues, waiting beyond two months is crippling for families,” Yee said. “The situation is even more dire without the federal FPUC component (the $600 plus-up). Additionally, we are hearing from claimants who fall through the cracks because they do not make $100 or more in weekly state benefits, which disqualifies them for the FEMA $300. These hardworking people had mixed W-2 and 1099 or self- employment income with small income from side jobs. They are thus forced to accept small weekly benefits below $100 from state UI because their 1099 or self- employment is not counted in calculations. No one can survive on sub-$100 per week.”

It’s that last group our reader seems to fall into, and we have heard from countless others like her.

PUA is the federally funded program for the self- employed and others who don’t qualify for standard unemployment insurance.

As for the LWA, Hawaii was approved Saturday to participate (http://808ne.ws/ lwastates) and must develop a new system to disburse the money. No start date for payments is set, but payments for claimants who do qualify will be retroactive to Aug. 1, the DLIR said. The bonus is expected to last only a few weeks.

Other readers have asked whether Hawaii could use some of its hundreds of millions of dollars in other funding from the CARES Act to boost the weekly benefit of everyone on unemployment to at least $100 and thus make them eligible for the extra $300 a week from LWA.

The answer to that is no, according to DLIR and FEMA (see page 8 of 808ne.ws/ femafaq), but that doesn’t prevent states from boosting jobless aid on their own, without getting a federal bonus.


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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