Business

Want Unemployment Benefits in Hawaii? You’ll Have to Look For Work

By Max Dible
May 20, 2021, 2:39 PM HST
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Come the end of May, unemployed residents in Hawai´i must again seek work regularly if they hope to maintain their unemployment (UI) benefits.

Governor David Ige on Thursday announced he will reinstate the search-for-work requirement into the state’s UI program as of May 30.

Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, director of the Hawai´i Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, explained that the search-for-work stipulation has always been part of the state’s unemployment process. It was relaxed after the pandemic set in, as travel to the Hawaiian Islands all but disappeared and the state’s largest industry essentially shutdown, erasing jobs at an economy-shattering pace. Now, the job market is beginning to recover.

“Those totally unemployed need to look (for work),” Perreira-Eustaquio said. “If claimants are partially unemployed or attached to a union, there is no requirement for them to look.”

The governor said the search-for-work requirement is the only change the state will make to the UI program, for now.

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“We will not be suspending any of the other federal unemployment initiatives at this time,” Ige said. “The PUA program will continue. PEUC will continue, (and the) $300 per week federal unemployment insurance supplement … will continue at this time.”

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“We will make decisions about these programs as we continue to measure the pandemics impacts on our residents and our economic recovery,” the governor continued.

At least 21 Republican-led states across the US, including Iowa, Texas and Georgia, are doing away with the $300 plus-up benefits from the federal government in June, according to Forbes. The decisions are being justified as an incentive to get America back to work. Many people have been de-incentivized because state and federal benefits have proven equal to, and often considerably higher than, employee pay pre-pandemic. That has also been true for many in Hawai´i.

Governor Ige said the state’s high cost of living has stayed his administration from following suit and rolling back the $300 weekly benefits. He said remaining tapped into that funding is better for Hawai´i’s economy and its individual residents for the time being.

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“We are exploring and learning from other states about what actions and what programs they’ve put together,” Ige said in response to a question about offering other incentives, such as state-sponsored bonuses, to state residents who return to the workforce. “We will be evaluating what we can do to get people back to work.”

Search-For-Work Specifics

A lack of childcare options is not normally an acceptable reason to apply for unemployment benefits under Hawai´i law. However, under the pandemic, the PUA program allows eligibility for claimants who can not go back to work due to childcare concerns.

The search-for-work stipulation demands that any person collecting UI in Hawai´i who does not qualify for an exemption must make three legitimate job inquiries per week in order to remain eligible for their benefits, both state and federal. The first UI pay-period for which this will be required is the week of May 30 to June 5, 2021. Any work searches prior to that time period, or after it, will not count toward that specific week.

Each UI claimant is required to keep a log of these job inquiries — which include submitting an application in-person, interviewing for a position, applying for work online by way of a standard job website, or applying for work through HireNet Hawai´i. More information for employers and potential employees can be accessed here.

Two units within the DLNR will be responsible for selecting claimants at random and checking their application statuses, which include verifying that the search-for-work requirement has been met. Those who can not provide accurate proof of their work search may be subject to a loss of benefits, as may those who are deemed to have turned down a fair offer to work.

Under Hawai´i’s Re-Employment Services and Eligibility Assessment (RESEA), the DLIR’s Workforce Development Division reaches out to the unemployed based on random selection and picks people for individualized re-employment evaluations, Director Perreira-Eustaquio said.

“The assessment will determine if they reached out to contacts,” she continued. “If they did not, they will be referred to the Unemployment Division as a possibly ineligible claimant for benefits.”

The federal government also mandates that the state perform quality control assessments. The DLIR Internal Audit Section reaches out to claimants and makes sure everything that was written on the claim was accurate. The Section also examines search-for-work contact requirements. If they find incomplete or inaccurate information, they may also refer a claimant to the Unemployment Division for investigation.

The Hawai´i Restaurant Association has claimed that thousands of unemployed individuals who previously worked in the industry have turned down offers to return to their positions because those people are making more money through unemployment than they did pre-pandemic. They are often making considerably more than they could by returning to work today, as out-of-state visitors remain far more sparse than before and restaurant traffic suffers as a result.

Employers who offer legitimate jobs to applicants may report those who turn the positions down to the DLIR via the website linked in the article above, Perreira-Eustaquio said. A UI benefits investigation would then ensue, if the department valued the information as credible.

The DLIR said Thursday there are approximately 153,000 active UI claimants seeking full benefits and PEUC benefits in Hawai´i. There are another 38,000 claimants receiving funds under the PUA program. Based on the available data, the state projects that roughly 106,000 claimants throughout the Hawaiian Islands will need to begin searching for work by the end of the month if they want to remain eligible for their benefits.

More than 230,000 UI claims were filed in total since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to numbers provided by the governor. Hawai´i’s current unemployment rate is 8.5%, well above the national average of 6.1%.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations.
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