Hawaii labor director Anne E. Perreira-Eustaquio said today that 100 new adjudicators have joined the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations starting today to help clear the backlog of thousands of unresolved unemployment claims.
“We have the adjudication issues for separation. Those are the voluntarily left issues or the misconduct issues. We also have a lot of what we call ‘DNAs,’ did not accept. So claimants are being called back to work or being provided with some hours during the week and they are not accepting for some reason or other,” Perreira-Eustaquio said this morning on Spotlight Hawaii.
Any of those issues can lead to a halt in weekly unemployment benefits and must be investigated by an adjudicator to determine if the claimant is still owed money.
She said that the agency has also been able to identify some fraudulent cases and have been turning them over to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
Perreira-Eustaquio said that these 100 new adjudicators are being paid for by CARES funding and will work through the end of the year.
The DLIR director said her agency is working through the backlog as fast as possible.
Their call center staffed with 200 agents answers 2,000 calls a day, but receives on average more than 8,000 to 9,000 unique callers, and she said week after week, there are plenty of newly unemployed people filing claims.
“We’re still seeing a large amount of individuals now being permanently laid off, so their status has been changed. Or business who have hung on for all this time have not been able to succeed so they’re starting to lay off now,” she said.
Perreira-Eustaquio is concerned that the economic landscape is not improving and that there could be a fresh wave of unemployed workers in the new year. She said her agency has received many new WARN notices, which are official notifications to the state from employers that they are permanently going out business or laying off a large portion of their workforce.
One of Perreira-Eustaquio’s major concerns is that the staffing the DLIR relies on to process claims in a timely manner will end soon if Congress does not act quickly on new funding for such programs.
The DLIR’s call center and the new adjudication team are funded through CARES Act money.
When those funds run out at the end of December, those added resources will go away, a time when many people could be losing their jobs.
She said her agency has also worked hard to hire new staff, but it has been difficult to find people who can do the work and want to stay.
“We hired over 85 individuals since we started this process. We’ve lost a third of those individuals because it’s just a tough job,” she said.
She added that there is a lot to learn about the rules and regulations of the various programs to process benefits, and that many find the job stressful because they are often faced with claimants who are frustrated with a delay in benefits, and may be in desperate circumstances.
“Some individuals can’t handle that type of work, you know, it’s tough. It’s hard on the heart, I have to say,” she said.
Unemployment insurance is funded is through a tax paid by employers. The state’s trust fund that employers spent years building up ran out of money months ago, so the agency has been forced to borrow heavily to keep paying benefits.
“We have now currently borrowed $640 million from US Department of Labor. We anticipate borrowing until the end of December between 1 and 1.2 billion dollars in order to keep paying out benefits. We anticipate to continue to borrow after January and the employers are gonna be responsible for paying, for replenishing that fund so we can continue to pay benefits to claimants,” she said.
Spotlight Hawaii, which shines a light on issues affecting Hawaii, airs live 10:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook page. Join Ryan Kalei Tsuji and Yunji de Nies this month for a conversation with guests. Click here to watch previous conversations.