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Kokua Line: Looming end to federal jobless aid raises many questions for Hawaii claimants

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Question: I was approved for receiving PEUC six weeks ago but have not received any payment since the status of my claims is pending. If my claims are not resolved before the end of this year, will I lose out on receiving the PEUC compensation?

Answer: No, you will be paid for the weeks you are deemed eligible, even if the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations finalizes your claim after Dec. 26, when the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is scheduled to expire, Bill Kunstman, a spokesman for the DLIR, said Friday.

PEUC provides up to 13 weeks of additional benefits to people who have exhausted their 26 weeks of regular Unemployment Insurance. The extension is not automatic; claimants apply for PEUC through their UI accounts.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the federal program for the self- employed and others not eligible for standard UI, also is scheduled to expire at the end of December. That will leave standard UI and Extended Benefits as the main benefits for under- or unemployed people struggling to find work in Hawaii’s pandemic-ravaged economy.

To be clear regarding PEUC, you will be paid only for eligibility during the life of the program (regardless of when you actually get paid), which means you may not receive the full 13 weeks. You mentioned being eligible since mid- October, which would give you roughly 10 weeks of eligibility if the program expires on schedule. A claimant can be paid beyond Dec. 26 for earlier eligibility, but new benefits would not accrue without a program extension, Kunstman said.

The department hopes unemployment benefits provided under the federal CARES Act will be extended, but a seamless transition looks unlikely at this point, Kunstman said.

“We’re gearing up for a lot of people having to transfer to Extended Benefits” when PEUC ends, he said, referring prospective claimants to a how-to guide at

Extended Benefits, known as EB20, provide up to 13 weeks of benefits for claimants who have exhausted their PEUC and meet other requirements. Existing claimants can log into their UI account and click the link under the EB20 announcement for more information. The application process involves answering a series of questions.

Q: Is the state hiring more claim examiners? My case has been forwarded to a claim examiner, but the person I spoke to at the unemployment insurance call center could not provide a timeframe of when my case would be reviewed or how many other cases are ahead of mine.

A: Yes, the DLIR hires claim examiners on a continuous basis, Kunstman said, as this job requires a level of expertise far beyond general call-center duties.

On a related note: The DLIR implores people expecting a call back from a claims examiner or the call center to answer their phones, even if the phone service labels an incoming call as potential spam or telemarketing. All DLIR calls come from an 808 area code, Kunstman said.

Q: My $300 federal plus-up under PUA is no longer being deposited to my account by the DLIR. Just the basic $263. Has the money run out?

A: Yes. The $300 weekly Lost Wages Assistance supplement was only for six weeks. The last payment, for the week ending Sept. 5, was distributed at the end of October, according to the DLIR.

Moreover, as noted in a previous question, the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program itself is set to expire late next month, to the dismay of tens of thousands of Hawaii recipients.

The DLIR has distributed a total of $1.3 billion in PUA benefits in Hawaii, including the basic weekly benefit and two iterations of the federal “plus-up.” Recipients describe PUA as a lifeline for the self-employed and others not eligible for traditional UI.

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

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