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Extended jobless benefits rollout starts Tuesday in Hawaii

The 11-week extension of the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program will begin rolling out Tuesday for about 68,000 potential claims in Hawaii.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations on Thursday announced the phased rollout of the so-called “PEUC 2” program, and starting Tuesday night it will run batches of about 5,000 to 10,000 unemployment claims nightly.

DLIR spokesman William Kunstman said in an email that those initial claimants could certify their claims as early as Tuesday, and after that it would take a “couple of business days” to deposit funds into their accounts.

For most others it appears it will take longer to receive those benefits. According to a frequently asked questions page on the DLIR website, the Unemployment Insurance Division will mail a revised “monetary determination” letter that will include PEUC 2 benefits. After a revised monetary determination has been established, claimants can file their weekly claim certifications.

However, it can take up to two weeks for workers to receive their revised monetary determination, according to DLIR’s FAQ.

“We’re pleased to have fully restored the PEUC program that so many workers in our state are depending on. These are vital programs that have helped Hawaii residents to provide for their families as we continue to navigate COVID-19,” said DLIR Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio in a statement. “While this is a huge step forward, we know there’s still more work to do to ensure everyone receives the benefits they are entitled to.”

The so-called “PEUC 2” will provide 11 weeks of additional unemployment benefits for those who have exhausted their previous PEUC benefits, which provided 13 weeks of benefits and were a product of the CARES Act passed in March. The PEUC program is meant for workers who have exhausted their 26 weeks of standard state unemployment insurance.

PEUC 2 includes an additional $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation weekly benefit.

The federal program was approved in late December, but Hawaii labor officials said technical problems with the department’s computer system had delayed the start of the program for tens of thousands of Hawaii’s unemployed residents.

Hawaii claimants have been waiting for the launch of PEUC 2, as reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Kokua Line, which was approved in a COVID relief bill passed by Congress in December. The bill was passed after the expiration of the first iteration of the PEUC.

Workers, including many who are part of the Hawaii Unemployment Updates &Support Group Facebook page, have complained about long delays in receiving unemployment benefits. Some started applying for PEUC benefits months ago and have received just a few payments, if any. Another common complaint was poor or inconsistent explanations from DLIR staff about the problem.

Kunstman said the delay in the rollout was the “antiquated mainframe” that the department announced last week is going to be replaced by a web-based application. The aging mainframe was also blamed for the delay in other unemployment payments.

The PEUC program was extended by the Continued Assistance Act and will provide unemployment benefits for the weeks ending Jan. 2 through March 13. There is a phaseout period between March 14 and April 10, which allows claimants who have a remaining PEUC 2 balance to collect PEUC benefits through April 10.

The DLIR FAQ also says those receiving benefits from the Federal-State Extended Benefits program will have to exhaust those benefits to qualify for PEUC 2 benefits.

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