comscore Kokua Line: Congress OKs extra boost for gap group in federal unemployment aid known as ‘plus-up’ | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: Congress OKs extra boost for gap group in federal unemployment aid known as ‘plus-up’

Question: How long did PUA get extended? What about the mixed- earners? Any relief for us?

Answer: Many readers are asking how the relief package approved by Congress on Monday affects unemployment benefits that have been keeping them afloat through the pandemic, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for people who are self-employed and don’t qualify for standard state benefits.

Congress fulfilled much of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ “wish list,” good news for people on various types of jobless aid and for the department administrating the benefits. But it won’t be a done deal unless President Trump signs the measure.

Here are key elements of the bill, and how the DLIR’s wish list (808 fared with Congress, according to the department:

>> Federal benefits: The DLIR asked that federal benefit programs created during the pandemic be extended, and in the same way they operate now, to avoid administrative delays. The bill largely accomplishes this:

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): Extension of 11 weeks, to a maximum of 50 weeks.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): Extension of 11 weeks, to a maximum of 24 weeks.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC): The bill revives the “plus-up” for 11 weeks at $300 a week, down from the $600 a week FPUC paid before expiring in July. Claimants on UI, PEUC, EB20 (extended benefits) or PUA can be eligible for FPUC.

The DLIR expects guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor by the end of the month to implement the extensions. Any delayed benefits will be paid retroactively, it said.

>> PUA flexibility: DLIR and labor departments in other states wanted people who are mainly self-employed to be able to claim PUA benefits, rather than be stuck with a smaller UI benefit based on meager W-2 earnings. Although this wish was not granted, the bill does include a provision to increase the plus-up by $100 a week for eligible UI claimants who fall in the mixed-wages gap; they would receive a $400 weekly plus-up, rather than $300. States must opt in to activate this provision. Pending guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, Hawaii intends to opt in, said DLIR spokesman Bill Kunstman.

>> Overpayment waivers: State law allows the DLIR to waive overpayment of standard UI benefits if the money was “received without fault on the part of the claimant and its recovery would be against equity and good conscience.” The DLIR wanted such waivers extended to PUA and Lost Wages Assistance recipients in the same circumstances, a wish Congress approved.

>> Hiring flexibility: As requested, the bill extends a waiver from merit staffing rules, giving the DLIR the flexibility to hire vendors to staff call centers and perform other functions.

>> Loan forgiveness: The DLIR wanted the federal government to forgive loans paying for UI benefits, to avoid big increases in employer taxes and assessments. This wish was not granted.

>> Eligibility flexibility: As requested, the bill extends flexibility on various eligibility requirements, such as searching for work, good cause for job separation and employer experience ratings.

>> Waiting week: As requested, the bill extends 100% federal funding for a claimant’s first week of benefits.

>> Extended benefits: As requested, the bill extends 100% of federal funding for extended benefits (known in Hawaii as EB20) to reduce the impact on employer taxes and assessments.

>> Lost Wages Assistance: Hawaii and other states sought a waiver of interest, penalty and administrative fees for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s LWA program, which replaced the original “plus-up.” LWA paid $300 a week for six weeks, before expiring itself. This wish was not granted.

>> Reimbursable employers: The bill extends 50% federal funding for UI benefits for employees of nonprofits and local and state governments. The DLIR had sought the extension but also an increase to 100% federal funding, which was not granted.

>> Federal requirements: The DLIR wants no new reporting requirements so that it can focus on providing bene­- fits. It awaits guidance on this from the U.S. Department of Labor.

>> Administrative funding: As requested, Congress granted more money to all states for staffing, technology, anti-fraud measures and other costs to operate state and federal programs.

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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