My wife and many of her friends and relatives work in the Hawai‘i hotel industry. They are the real backbone of Hawai‘i’s economy. My wife, an employee at one of Kaua‘i’s largest hotels, has worked there for over 20 years in housekeeping and laundry.
When they got laid off in mid-March because of the pandemic, many waited more than six weeks before they got their first unemployment checks. When calling the Unemployment Insurance office, she and her fellow workers could not get through to talk to anyone. It was a difficult online system to navigate.
They had no union, hotel human-resources officers or social-service agency to guide them. But they helped each other and recruited younger family members who were more computer savyy.
No one from from UI guided them. Households were beginning to implode with bill payments piling up. Many calls were placed with no one answering.
But through weeks of stressful computer inputting and waiting, payments were slowly coming through. I am not blaming the frontline workers, but there was no excuse for our state government’s lack of leadership and ineptitude. With the 26 weeks of unemployment payments exhausted, the same old garbage is happening again with the 13-week extensions. The unemployed are hurting again.
When I first went to the Kaua‘i UI office in early April to ask questions and get some assistance for my wife, I was stopped by two Hawai‘i National Guardsmen, who denied my entrance. They were polite and respectful, but that is beside the point.
What are guardsmen doing keeping us out of a tax-supported public agency? Local people are upset, but we will not resort to violence. We know better. This government agency belongs to the community and paid for with our tax dollars.
We need help and personal assistance now. Early last week, I went to check up on my wife’s 13-week extension claim. It has been almost two months since she last got paid.
The Kauai UI office was again using the National Guard to keep filers out. The soldiers were polite. They were about my children’s age. But using the guard is uncalled for. We need informed assistance. What a waste of our tax dollars. I requested to take a photo of them, but backed down when they told me they didn’t want to do it and that they would have to get their supervisor’s permission first. I respected their concerns and left.
Gov. David Ige and his advisers have to start respecting Hawai‘i’s working people. Stop being afraid of us. Be honest and let us in to get help. This is the kind of nonsense that only breeds contempt for our government.
Ray Catania is a resident of Puhi.