LIHU‘E — The pandemic has left many Kaua‘i residents unemployed, with “pending” state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Unemployment Insurance Division claims that still have not been processed since they first filed.
While the state continues to do what they can, the lack of progress is leaving many on Kaua‘i feeling hopeless and frustrated.
“I felt like the psycho ex-girlfriend,” Cynthia Cuevas of Kalaheo said. “I kept calling and emailing the unemployment office. The subject header would read ‘Attention,’ ‘Immediate Attention’ or ‘Help.’”
Facebook groups like the Hawai‘i Unemployment Updates &Support Group have been created by those who filed successfully, with the intention of sharing how they got their claims processed in hopes of helping others. The group lets others see recently-processed claims in hopes to inspire others to hang in there and give hints to those who are still waiting for their claims to be processed.
While there are some residents who have not seen a processed claim payout struggling to make ends meet, others will return to work soon without receiving consistent UI benefits.
Cuevas is excited to go back to work at Koloa Rum on Tuesday, Nov. 3, after she was furloughed at the beginning of the pandemic. While she waited patiently for her claim to be processed, there was hope for a moment while she worked a temporary job.
“From July to September, I started working part-time for the census,” Cuevas said. “When I started, I got no unemployment benefits, still I did all of the claim-filing to keep it active. I kept doing it. One of the weeks in August, I didn’t make enough hours, so they sent me $100, and $300 from that extra federal funds, and then nothing.”
Once done with the census job, Cuevas faced another obstacle — retrieving proof that she was done working for them.
“The catch is, census, they gave me a phone, and when you are done working for the census you have to return the phone and you are no longer working for them,” Cuevas said. “The UI office said they need proof why I stopped working there, but I been calling and emailing the census and did not get any news back from them.”
Cuevas said the UI office told her she would have a 10-day hold on her UI account and, after the hold, if she qualified, then she would see a payout.
“I’m grateful, though, I had a cushion that can help me get to the end of the year,” Cuevas said. “We would have a totally different conversation if I didn’t. I feel for the ones who have kids, like single parents who haven’t seen a payout. Can you imagine what they are going through?”
County Councilmember Felicia Cowden, chair of the council Public Safety &Human Services Committee, echoed Cuevas’ thoughts.
“The difficulties with the unemployment system have a profound impact on both the employee and business owners alike,” Cowden said.
“It is with deep concern that I am aware of the financial struggle that has a ripple effect beyond the unemployed. When we see the state has almost $1 billion of CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act monies left to be expended, there is an urgency to get it into the hands of our people.”
On Sept. 30, Gov. David Ige announced the state’s new unemployment call center was opening, created to answer more claimant calls.
“We have a little over 8,000 unemployed individuals that still need their claims looked at,” said DLIR Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio. “When they filed a claim, for a reason they may be eligible one week and disqualified another. The 200 callers would check to see why the unemployed individual’s claim was disqualified and to help them understand why.”
Ige said the call center has processed over $3 billion in UI benefits and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments to those who qualified.
The call center numbers are 833-901-2272 and 833-901-2275.
Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business, and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.