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Kokua Line: Can I count Unemployment Insurance as income toward a new claim?

Kokua Line has received a flurry of questions from out-of-work or under-employed people who say they are struggling since federal jobless aid expired last month, Gov. David Ige urged tourists to stay home and Honolulu County extended restrictions on certain events and businesses.

Bill Kunstman, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, answers the questions and provides links to resources for job training, career counseling and other help to find new ways to make a living.

Question: If I was on Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation until it expired, can I count that as income toward qualifying for a new initial Unemployment Insurance claim? PEUC counted as income for tax purposes; I paid income taxes on it.

Answer. No. “Unemployment Insurance benefits are not wages for the purposes of eligibility for regular UI.”

PEUC, which expired the first week of September, was the federally funded extension of standard UI. Now standard UI is the only unemployment compensation available, and it’s limited to W-2 earners who qualify based on recent wages.

UI is funded by taxes paid by employers. Workers do not pay taxes into the unemployment program; no deductions are taken from workers’ paychecks for unemployment insurance, according to the DLIR website.

As the reader noted, unemployment compensation generally is subject to income taxes.

Q: I was collecting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance because I am a self- employed events planner and permitted events are not allowed on Oahu now. Now that PUA is gone, will self-employed gig workers be eligible for regular UI benefits?

A: “No, self-employed workers are not eligible for regular UI benefits.”

Q: My income is intermittent, paid one week each month. Does that mean I am working one week and unemployed three weeks monthly? I am trying to fill out the application for a new initial claim and am not sure how to put it.

A: Yes, “assuming the work is performed during a one-week period and the wages are paid weekly.” As should be clear from the other questions, this refers to W-2 wages, not to money earned from self-employment; the self-employed are not eligible for UI.

Q: I need help toward a new job or career path.

A: “The American Job Centers Hawaii offices are located statewide and provide free employment and training services to job seekers as well as employers/businesses. The AJCH is overseen by their respective county workforce development boards with federal funding administered through the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Workforce Development Division.

“Services for job seekers include individualized employment services and job search assistance, help for creating or updating a resume, interview coaching and subsidized training if eligible. Employers and businesses can take advantage of recruitment assistance, employment tax credits and subsidized training for employees. For more information visit labor.hawaii.gov/wdd.

“For online services available 24/7, visit Hirenet Hawaii, the state’s virtual employment one-stop (site). Explore, view and apply to hundreds of open positions. Click on the HIWI section to view up-to-date Labor Market Information on the career of your choice. Upload or create your resume and see what types of employment opportunities match your qualifications.”

The Hirenet Hawaii website is hirenethawaii.com.

Q: Can just being overweight make it so that you get sicker with COVID-19? I thought it was obesity.

A: Yes, a body mass index from 25 to 29.9, which is considered overweight but not obese, can make you more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The risk of severe COVID-19 illness increases sharply with elevated BMI,” the agency says, so those with a BMI 30 or higher are at even greater risk. Adults can calculate their BMI at 808ne.ws/bmicalc.

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 kokualine@staradvertiser.com.

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