Question: What is going on with the plus-up? I thought we would be getting it by now. It was approved around Christmas!
Answer: Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), popularly known as “the plus-up,” is flowing in Hawaii only to recipients of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance at this point, because PUA claims are not processed on Hawaii’s aging mainframe computer, which is so fragile that the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations fears it may crash, DLIR officials said.
This means that all other claimants eligible for the $300 weekly plus-up, including jobless people on standard Unemployment Insurance (UI), initial Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), or Extended Benefits (EB20) are not yet receiving it. The department hopes to finalize the programming of FPUC payments for those claimants within the next week, spokesman Bill Kunstman said Wednesday. Payments will be made retroactively as necessary.
The department has been cautious about adding new processing demands to the mainframe computer, which is about 35 years old, to avoid overtaxing it. If it crashed, UI, PEUC and EB would have to be processed manually, stalling payments, he said.
Kokua Line is receiving many questions about the status of new benefits or extensions approved by Congress and former President Donald Trump late last year. Here is an update from the DLIR:
>> PEUC: This federally funded program is for people who have exhausted their 26 weeks of standard state UI. PEUC originally lasted 13 weeks. Congress and Trump approved an 11-week extension late last month (for a total of 24 weeks of benefits), but the extension has not yet launched in Hawaii. This means that only people who have not exhausted their initial 13 weeks can receive PEUC in Hawaii right now; they can apply and certify their claims, Kunstman said. However, claimants who have exhausted their initial round of PEUC cannot. They can wait for the 11-week extension or apply for Extended Benefits, known as EB20 (more on that below), he said. The DLIR hopes to launch the extension before the end of January, he said.
>>EB20: The DLIR is not automatically processing EB20 applications submitted after Dec. 13, but claimants can call the DLIR Call Center toll free at 833-901-2272 or 833-901-2275 to ask that their application for Extended Benefits be processed if that is their preference, Kunstman said. The DLIR stopped auto-processing EB20 applications so that claimants could instead claim the PEUC extension. This makes sense for claimants who have enough money to tide them over, as the generally preferred progression is from UI to PEUC to EB, a timeline that maximizes the number of weeks a claimant receives benefits. However, it also means the claimant would receive no payments while waiting for the PEUC extension. Kunstman did not know how many jobless people in Hawaii fall into this gap.
>> Standard UI: Benefits for claimants who have not exhausted their 26 weeks of standard state UI are flowing normally, Kunstman said.
>> PUA: Benefits for the self-employed and others not eligible for standard UI are flowing normally, with the $300 weekly plus-up, he said. One new rule: PUA claimants must document that they are self-employed; previously they could self-certify.
>> Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC): Hawaii will participate in this federally funded program, which will pay an extra $100 a week to eligible claimants who earned too much from an employer to be eligible for PUA but too little to get much in standard UI. This likely will be the last of the new benefits to be paid, and may arrive as a lump sum. “I have no implementation timetable,” Kunstman said.
>> FPUC: Claimants receiving PUA, UI, PEUC or EB20 are eligible for the $300 weekly plus-up, but, as mentioned, FPUC currently is being paid only to PUA claimants, because of difficulties programming the mainframe. “I just can’t express how much more difficult this is than people understand,” DLIR Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio said on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight program Jan. 15, referring to reprogramming the mainframe to accommodate FPUC and other federal benefits.
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