LIHU‘E — The pandemic is still triggering a rise in unemployment across the state, according to the Department of Labor &Industrial Relations (DLIR), even though seasonally adjusted unemployment statewide dipped from 23.5% in May to 13.9% in June.
The same story was reflected on Kaua‘i, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reported the unemployment rate of 20.2% for the month of June 2020, compared to 3.1% unemployment in June of last year.
And residents are still having a hard time accessing the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program to help make ends meet.
It’s a problem statewide according to DLIR, which announced Thursday updated unemployment insurance claims information, including paying out $2,349,952,775 since the onset of the pandemic on March 1.
“Ninety-two percent (92%) of the valid unemployment insurance claims that have come in since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic have been processed and paid out by the DLIR. Currently our biggest challenge is the staff and resources required to address the high level of imposter and regular fraud in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program,” said Deputy Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio.
Lihu‘e resident Vanessa Ching, who worked at Flying Food Group before the pandemic started, is one of those people still waiting on the PUA to come through.
She’s been putting in calls to state and county unemployment offices and working through the process, and says the experience has been a “nightmare” that has caused “a lot of stress and anxiety.”
“It put so much pressure on myself (and) on my husband, who thankfully does work, to pick up my financial burdens,” said Ching, explaining volunteers she’s spoken with haven’t been adequately trained.. “I felt unemployment could’ve had a better system on how they were handling the situation.”
For the past two weeks, Ching has been trying to secure PUA funds and is looking for a job at the same time. She says the job hunt has been difficult because businesses are still reeling from the impacts of COVID-19. Many are still closed, and those that are open are focused on the people they already employ.
“One place barely kept their own employees and don’t have funds to hire more,” said Ching.
Ching’s pursuit of PUA relief finally started gaining some traction after she put in a few phone calls to Kaua‘i Representatives. She emailed and emailed and faxed explanations of her situation to Sen. Ron Kouchi and Rep. James Tokioka. And she got results.
“They’ve been reacting really fast with my recent problem with PUA,” said Ching. “They’re both trying to push our payments from PUA out in a faster and effective way for us to receive our benefits.”
Tokioka said he’s been spending most of his day in his office with his assistance answering emails and calls regarding unemployment.
“Most of my day every day is spent following up on PUA claims, and some of it is trying to get people into the system, trying to get people who were in the system but got kicked out back into the system, and some people have been trying to get and haven’t been able since February,” said Tokioka.
Tokioka recommends those applying for unemployment to double-check their information when submitting it online, checking their emails continuously, and give their information that is requested in a timely manner.
“A lot of time the office is getting half of the information,” said Rep. Tokioka. “Some social security numbers were off, and addresses were off…bank statements were off.”
Tokioka said he knows the Lihu‘e unemployment office is working hard around the clock trying to help those get into the system and has hope that those who applied will get their claims soon.
Stephanie Shinno, community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.