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Hawaii unemployment benefits get a new 13-week extension

  • JAMM AQUINO / OCTOBER 19
                                Hawaii had the highest unemployment rate in the nation last month. A shuttered storefront is seen along Waialae Avenue.

    JAMM AQUINO / OCTOBER 19

    Hawaii had the highest unemployment rate in the nation last month. A shuttered storefront is seen along Waialae Avenue.

As Hawaii’s unemployment plight nears the nine-month mark, state officials are activating a second extension of jobless benefits for out-of-work residents.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations announced Monday the “launch” of a new extension to state unemployment benefits that adds 13 weeks to the state’s normal 26-week coverage limit and a previous 13-week extension known as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC.

This second extension, made through the Federal-State Extended Benefits program, enables eligible residents who lost work before or during the coronavirus pandemic to receive as much as 52 weeks of unemployment compensation, or a year’s worth, compared with the prior nine-month limit.

“The Extended Benefits program provides a much-needed safety net for Hawaii claimants who have exhausted their current benefits and are still dealing with the long-term effects of unemployment due to COVID-19,” DLIR Director Anne Eustaquio said in a statement.

Under the program, the weekly benefit amount is the same as what an individual earns through their regular state unemployment insurance benefit based on prior employment.

To qualify, individuals must be unemployed or underemployed, be available and able to work, and have exhausted their benefits since mid-May.

DLIR is required by the federal government to identify and notify potentially eligible individuals for the extended benefits. The agency said such individuals will be notified by mail and directed to apply online.

General information about the program and how to apply can be found at labor.hawaii.gov.

A step-by-step guide for applying is at 808ne.ws/3oytqGa.

Reviewing applications for the extended benefits takes at least 14 business days, according to DLIR.

The extended benefits program is available in states where unemployment is particularly bad. Hawaii is among 44 states that still qualified as of earlier this month.

DLIR did not immediately have an estimate for how many Hawaii residents are expected to tap the new extended benefits.

According to a U.S. Department of Labor report last week, claims under the program have begun to trickle in for Hawaii, with nine for the week ended Oct. 3 and six the week before.

States with the most claims under the program for the week ended Oct. 3 were California with 120,624, followed by North Carolina with 74,184 and New York with 39,910.

Hawaii has a far smaller population than most states but had the highest unemployment rate in the nation last month at 15.1%, in large part due to its reliance on tourism, which has been curtailed by COVID-19 and travel restrictions. Only four other states had rates over 10% in September: Nevada at 12.6%, California at 11%, Rhode Island at 10.5% and Illinois at 10.2%.

DLIR had a “soft launch” of the initial 13-week PEUC unemployment compensation extension in mid-May, saying at the time that 479 claimants had been certified and that notice of potential eligibility was going out to about 15,000 people.

PEUC benefit payments have grown since then from $586,191 as of May 28 to $42.9 million as of Wednesday.

Overall, DLIR has paid out $3.3 billion in unemployment compensation for 3.4 million weeks related to about 180,000 claims from March 1 through late September.

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