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Kokua Line: Hawaii labor department shares ‘wish list’ to extend, improve jobless aid

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Question: I understand that if they let PUA expire there won’t be any more payments after Dec. 26, but what about for payments due for before Dec. 26? My claim is still pending (awaiting adjudication). Assuming I am ever approved, will I ever get paid?

Answer: Yes, you would be paid for eligible weeks prior to Dec. 26, even if the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program expires on that date and your claim is approved afterward, said Bill Kunstman, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

What’s referred to as the “hard cutoff” in the PUA program refers to the fact that people who have not used up their eligibility by the time the program expires won’t get the full benefit, which currently stands at 46 weeks in Hawaii — 39 weeks of basic coverage and a seven- week extension because the unemployment rate is so high. So, for example, if a person has been eligible for and received 36 weeks of PUA benefits by the time the program expires that’s all they would receive.

PUA, which is for people who don’t qualify for regular unemployment compensation, is just one of many relief programs or processes that would end if Congress and the Trump Administration don’t reboot the U.S. CARES Act, which has propped up the U.S. economy through the COVID-19 crisis with its vast federal spending. After months of stalemate, negotiations revved up last week; an update is expected Monday.

The DLIR hopes the federal government will take action, Kunstman said, noting that the department has a “wish list” of CARES Act extensions and improvements, which you can read at 808

Along with wanting to extend existing jobless aid, the department seeks flexibility for PUA claimants so that those who are primarily but not 100% self-employed can receive higher benefits; loan forgiveness to avoid significant increases in employer taxes and assessments; more money to detect fraudulent claims; waivers on seeking repayment from legitimate claimants who were overpaid through no fault of their own; increased federal funding for unemployment benefits for nonprofits, local and state government; and numerous other action items.

Q: What about PEUC, which a lot of people are on now because their regular benefits ran out?

A: Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, is the 13-week extension available to people who have exhausted their standard Unemployment Insurance. Like PUA, this program is set to expire Dec. 26, absent federal action.

Here are a few of the other unemployment programs or processes that would expire by year’s end if Congress and the Trump Administration do not act; the DLIR is urging that all be extended.

>> Full federal funding for the Extended Benefits program, known as EB20 in Hawaii. If 100% federal funding expires, a large burden would fall on employers to fund about 50% of the program’s costs.

>> Waiver of merit-hiring rules, which made it possible to hire contractors as customer-service agents and made it easier to hire claims adjudicators. As it stands now, both the waiver of the merit rules and funding for about 300 additional staffers (200 in a virtual call center and 100 adjudicators) expire at year’s end, Kunstman said.

>> Interest-free provision on federal loans, which states are using to pay unemployment benefits after their own funding ran low. The National Association of State Workforce Agencies, of which DLIR is a member, has petitioned the U.S. Department of Labor and Congressional leadership to extend the interest-free provision and/or forgive the loans.

With the highest unemployment rate in the country, Hawaii’s fate is tied closely to the fate of the proposed CARES Act extensions, as unemployed and worried readers can attest.

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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