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Unemployment call center understaffed, overwhelmed

  • STAR-ADVERTISER
                                The state is looking to fill paid positions to man the unemployment call center. Inside the Hawai‘i Convention Center in April, legislators and other state employees volunteered to learn how to process the backlog of claims.

    STAR-ADVERTISER

    The state is looking to fill paid positions to man the unemployment call center. Inside the Hawai‘i Convention Center in April, legislators and other state employees volunteered to learn how to process the backlog of claims.

  • Anne Perreira Eustaquio

    Anne Perreira Eustaquio

The state’s understaffed unemployment insurance call center that’s designed to handle 2,000 calls a day at the Hawai‘i Convention Center was getting more than 200,000 calls every day just two weeks ago but is still overwhelmed by 40,000 calls each day.

People claiming unemployment insurance benefits often use apps to automatically dial the call center trying to get through. But a “bot blocker” installed two weeks ago by the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has since reduced the volume of calls, DLIR Director Anne Perreira-­Eustaquio told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii online video program Monday.

Only about 5,000 to 6,000 calls are from actual claimants, Perreira-Eustaquio said.

DLIR staff have been trying to call back some claimants, but the calls go unanswered, she said.

“Our biggest issue, again, is claimants are not picking up their phones,” Perreira-­Eustaquio said. “We’re calling, and we’re not getting responses from claimants.”

Last week the call center had a staff of 70 call center agents and 41 adjudicators, who resolve unemployment insurance disputes, according to DLIR spokesman Bill Kunstman.

The goal is to hire a full staff of 100 call center agents and 75 adjudicators, Kunstman said.

Perreira-Eustaquio invited unemployed workers to apply for call center jobs through the DLIR website.

“If you are looking for work, we are still desperately looking for individuals to come and work here at the unemployment insurance office,” she said. “We’re looking for adjudicators, and we’re also looking for call center agents. … We’d love to have you on board.”

DLIR announced later Monday that the new federal stimulus signed by President Joe Biden means that DLIR expects no gaps in unemployment insurance benefits.

“We are relieved that Congress has acted to continue to provide unemployment insurance benefits and assistance to claimants as our Hawaii Ohana continues to struggle from the effects of COVID-19 disruption in our community,” Perreira-­Eustaquio said in a statement. “We will automatically enroll claimants in the appropriate extension, so claimants will not need to take any extra steps to receive benefits. Claimants will see a new benefit amount in the online portal and receive a written monetary determination in the mail. … We know that these benefits provide a critical lifeline to tens of thousands of our claimants, and we’re quickly implementing the new extensions.”

Perreira-Eustaquio said Title IX of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 extends key unemployment insurance and assistance provisions of both the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) as well as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The latest round of COVID-19 federal stimulus funds means that:

>> The $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation will be extended through the week that ends Sept. 4.

>> Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation will be extended until the week ending Sept. 4.

>> Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will be extended through the week ending Sept. 6.

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