Big Island Coronavirus Updates

DLIR Updates Unemployment Claims Status, Announces New Certification Process

May 8, 2020, 7:00 AM HST
* Updated May 7, 11:57 PM
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Hawai‘i has processed nearly two-thirds of initial unemployment insurance claims, yet still has nearly 85,000 more to go before catching up with demand.

Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Scott Murakami said Thursday that the state has processed more than 141,000 claims. Of those processed, a little more than 100,000 have been approved. The rest are claims that were denied based on a lack of eligibility. Hawai‘i has paid out roughly $300 million in unemployment benefits since April, including federal plus-up money.

“The system is decades and decades old, and it’s very cumbersome to use,” Gov. David Ige said of why so many tens of thousands of claims remain unprocessed weeks after they were filed.

Implementing change to the mainframe is more or less impossible, he continued, meaning all progress is reliant on system workarounds.

Murakami said of the 85,000 or so initial claims still awaiting processing, around 6,500 applications contain significant errors. However, with increased ranks of claims processors and technological upgrades, he said the DLIR should be able to move through those erroneous claims in the next four days.

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More than 600 volunteers have helped move the process along, answering phones and manning computers at the Hawai‘i Convention Center and the state library system.

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DLIR is looking to add another 150 UI phone operators over the next week. Eventually, the department hopes to move to a cloud-based system, as physical areas now in use for call centers may not be continuously available as Hawai‘i begins to reopen its economy and people head back to work.

Initial claims processing, however, isn’t the sole issue. Everyone who qualifies for UI benefits is required to fill out weekly certification forms. A replicated database on a separate portal, available on the DLIR website, went live this week to help clear traffic from the mainframe.

The mainframe absorbs traffic from several other state departments such as the Department of Education, the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services, which is a primary reason UI users struggle so mightily to even gain access to fill out initial claims and weekly certifications.

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Murakami said the DLIR hopes to offload all certification activities to the new portal by week’s end.

Another move the director is hoping will jumpstart the system will be implemented on Monday, May 11. Starting Monday, the department is asking the community to file weekly UI certifications on specific days of the week, which are determined based on the claimant’s last name.

Claimants whose last names begin with the letters A-G are asked to file certifications on Mondays. Those with last names beginning with the letters H-O are asked file on Tuesdays, and those with last names beginning with letters P-Z are asked to file on Wednesdays.

Sundays are considered open days, as are Thursdays through Saturdays for those who forget or are unable to file on the designated weekday. However, Murakami said it would be helpful if as many claimants as possible would stick to the schedule outlined above.

“We do understand it’s been a while that some of you have been out of work and we are working to process the claims as quickly as we can,” Gov. Ige said.

Murakami said his department has asked the federal government for the ability to waive certification requirements temporarily, but the DLIR was not granted permission to do so. However, people won’t have to reapply for a second claim after the 13-week period, only continue to keep up with weekly certifications.

Some people have complained their claims read as paid when they do gain access to the digital UI system, but they still haven’t seen all their checks. Murakami said this may be because people have failed to certify claims each week.

There is, however, the ability to back-date certifications for previous weeks’ benefits. The process must be repeated for each individual week, but can be done consecutively during one online session. Two questions will be asked:

  • Were you able and available to work this week?
  • Have you searched for three jobs?

Murakami advised claimants to answer “yes” to both questions, after which the system will generate all of your claim requisite payments for you for each week you fill out the certification.

Murakami also warned UI claimants that they need to go back to work when their previous employers offer them the chance to return to their jobs.

Eventually, a database will be created through the normal UI login, which will allow employers to communicate to the state which of their employees they’ve offered jobs to who didn’t return to work. At that point, if the state can’t get in touch with those claimants and/or don’t hear back from them, those individuals will be disqualified from further benefits.

If someone is removed from the system in error, there is always the option to file an appeal.

Answers to Other Common Questions

  • Hawai‘i’s maximum weekly benefit is $648, not including federal plus-up funds. People with two jobs who’ve lost one, but who still make more than maximum weekly benefit, are not eligible for more state money.
  • Uber and Lyft drivers do qualify for UI benefits. There are situations where people are driving for one of the companies sporadically or as a wage supplement, so each claim is determined individually.

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