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Uncertainty over new federal unemployment benefits

Unemployed workers who receive at least $100 per week in state unemployment benefits will be eligible for another $300 per week for four weeks, but when they’ll get the money is unclear.

Because the additional $300 is provided through new funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency called the Lost Wages Assistance Program, “we have to create a new program in order to pay it,” said Bill Kunstman, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Hawaii is one of 40 states scheduled to disburse the additional $300 federal weekly benefits, Kunstman said.

In a statement Thursday, acting DLIR director Anne Eustaquio said:

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

DLIR plans to notify people by email and a news release on how and when to file their “self-certification,” DLIR said Thursday.

When the additional benefits are disbursed, they’re designed to be retroactive to Aug. 1, when $600 in federal “plus up” payments expired.

There should be “no gap” as long people are eligible for state unemployment insurance and continue to file their claim certifications, Kunstman said.

People who receive less than $100 per week in unemployment benefits are not eligible for the additional $300, a requirement of President Donald Trump’s memo on the program, Kunstman said.

There has been confusion over how much unemployed people in Hawaii can expect through the new round of FEMA funding.

FEMA requires states to match the $300 additional federal benefit with $100 per week, Eustaquio told members of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 on Wednesday.

But Kunstman clarified on Thursday that Hawaii’s match comes in the form of the state’s weekly benefits that unemployed workers already receive.

So unemployed workers who receive the maximum benefit of $648 per week from the state, for example, should expect to temporarily receive a $300 boost to $948 week — not $1,048.

Eustaquio and Gov. David Ige on Thursday announced that Hawaii has been approved to disburse the federal unemployment benefits for a fourth week after getting earlier approval for three weeks of disbursements.

Although the increase is not as large as some unemployed workers had hoped for, Ige said in a statement Thursday that, “This will bring an extra week of 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.”

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