HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Department of Labor & Industrial Relations (DLIR) has announced updates to Hawaii’s unemployment insurance and assistance benefits, as well as improvements to help claimants get in touch with staff.

The changes announced on Wednesday, March 31, come as a result of Subtitle A Crisis Support for Unemployed Workers of Title IX of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021.

The U.S. Department of Labor projected that many states would need until mid-April or later to implement the new provisions and begin notifying individuals, however, there should be no lag in benefits for most claimants as long as they remain eligible for benefits.

“It is our top priority right now to ensure claimants experience a seamless transition as the federal unemployment benefit programs are extended through the first week of September,” said Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio. “In anticipation that the final version of the legislation extending the CARES Act programs would be absent major changes, we proactively started programing the changes that are saving thousands the financial hardship and lag in payments we saw earlier this year due to a delay in federal action.”

Unemployment insurance claims normally expire after 52 weeks, however, with the federal extensions, most claimants will have theirs automatically extended and receive benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Emergency Compensation (PEUC) program.

Claimants with additional work history during the pandemic may be eligible for a new claim. They will receive an email notifying them to file a new claim.

 The DLIR has also announced the following improvements:

  • Expanding staff at call and claims investigation centers at the Hawaii Convention Center
  • Hiring a vendor to perform investigations focusing on overpayments
    • Solid State Operations, Inc. will begin with 25 investigators on April 6 and ramp up services through early September when the federal authorization to use non-merit staffing currently expires with the ARPA unemployment provisions.
  • Instituting an appointment system for claimants to communicate with unemployment staff via video conference or on the phone
    • The appointment system will be in place by April 5 to allow claimants to schedule an appointment beginning April 20. Appointments will be available every Tuesday and Thursday. The initial pilot will focus on Oahu with plans to expand to the Neighbor Islands.

A Local Five union member Lani Meniano, who volunteered with the DLIR to facilitate unemployment applications, said the biggest setbacks are over-payments. Meniano said the application process could be confusing for first-time applicants and mistakes are common.

“I was one of the people who are also sitting in the corner of my house, you know, calling down unemployment six to eight hours just to get a hold of them,” Meniano said. “Some of them can file, but they are on pending because until a claim examiner calls them, it’s not going to get fixed.” 

She said she hopes the additions can help speed up the application process. Even though she has helped thousands of people get through their claims, her own son is now waiting in limbo waiting to go through adjudication.

 “I’ve been helping a lot of people,” Meniano said. “But, I, myself, I’m struggling, because I have a 21 year old son, and it’s his first time to file unemployment, and he never did before.”

The department has also mailed out revised form 1099-Gs on Monday, March 29, to individuals that contacted the DLIR requesting revised forms due to identity theft.

Click here for a summary of the changes and extensions.