A class-action lawsuit has been filed with the Hawaii Supreme Court urging it to compel the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to process a growing number of claims and pay overdue unemployment benefits.
The filing by Paul Alston and Blaine Rogers of the Dentons law firm was filed on behalf of thousands of Hawaii’s jobless residents and seeks an order to have Gov. David Ige and DLIR Director Anne Perreira- Eustaquio promptly pay unemployment insurance and federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits to those who have become jobless due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the filing, “over half a year into the pandemic, thousands of (unemployed citizens) continue to be failed by the inability of the DLIR to timely process, resolve and, most importantly, pay benefits to the citizens whose interests it is supposed to serve.”
“The situation in Hawaii is dire, and we need the DLIR to step up and immediately fulfill its mandate to promptly process and pay unemployment claims to all affected — many of whom have been waiting five months or more,” Rogers said in a news release.
Rogers said immediate intervention is needed because people are losing their homes, vehicles and savings.
“Their credit is being destroyed and their physical and mental health are suffering,” he said. “If this situation is allowed to continue, their suffering will only get worse and create a domino effect that will have an even more negative and long-lasting impact on the state.”
According to the filing, a court order is needed because the alternative of filing a civil lawsuit will only result in protracted litigation, “invariably resulting in financial disaster for the citizens of Hawaii.”
Hawaii, with an economy dependent on tourism, has been hit hard by the pandemic and resulting quarantine restrictions. The state unemployment rocketed from a rate of less than 3% in January to almost a quarter of the population by May — the third highest rate in the country.
Earlier this month, the state Labor Department said it has paid out $3.08 billion in unemployment benefits since the March 1 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In that time, 282,897 claims were filed statewide, and 174,233 claims were paid, DLIR said.
The state Attorney General’s office did not reply to a request for comment.