HONOLULU — Since March 1, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has paid out nearly $3 billion in unemployment insurance benefits for 3,015,688 weeks claimed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Thursday press release.
However, many residents are hitting the 26-week benefit wall and will need to apply for extensions.
“We are anticipating a significant increase of workers exhausting their regular 26 weeks of benefits due to the onset of the pandemic in late February and March,” DLIR Acting Director Anne Eustaquio said in the release.
“These claimants will need to apply for the 13-week extension by signing into the portal. We have posted graphics to illustrate the process at labor.hawaii.gov/ui/main/peuc-how-to-apply/,” she sid.
Residents filed 279,542 claims statewide, of which, 96,687 were invalid. DLIR reported 171,855 have been paid. There are currently 182,855 valid claims awaiting DLIR action.
DLIR, with the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency, received approval to pay four weeks of benefits in new unemployment insurance and up the Lost Wages Assistance Program.
This program, under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is a response to the July expiration of the unemployment $600 weekly benefit.
“This will bring an extra week of relief to many who are still unemployed due to the impact of the coronavirus on our economy,” sid Gov. David Ige in the release. “I’m taking this action to maximize all available federal funds to help people in Hawaiʻi who are unemployed because of COVID-19,” he said.
“We’re diligently building a new program within the unemployment computer system to implement and pay LWA benefits as soon as possible,” Eustaquio said.
To qualify for the $300 benefit, recipients must be eligible for at least $100 in weekly benefits and must certify that they are unemployed or partially unemployed due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19.
Payments would be retroactive to Aug. 1. Claimants will be notified by email and through news releases how and when to file their self-certification.
Unlike the FPUC program that ended in July, LWA is a grant with a finite amount of funding. When FEMA exhausts its grant funding, it will no longer have the resources to provide LWA payments and the program will end. If the federal program does not exhaust the LWA grant funding, payments will end on Dec. 26.
The state is not allowed to use CARES Act or any local funds to supplement those individuals with a weekly benefit amount of less than $100 to make them eligible for the program pursuant to the presidential memorandum.
The DLIR continues to experience a high volume of attempts of fraud in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. As of Sept. 1, the department received 115,992 applications and processed 111,326, or 96%, of the applications. The department continues to receive hundreds of fraudulent PUA claims weekly.
To date, the DLIR has paid up to $46.5 million in fraudulent claims and prevented $616 million in fraudulent benefits from being paid.
For more information about unemployment insurance and other labor issues visit labor.hawaii.gov/covid-19-labor-faqs/.