Gov. David Ige today said the state launched a new virtual unemployment insurance call center that started today to handle the backlog in jobless claims.
Ige said today $4.9 million in federal coronavirus relief funds have been allocated to staff the 200-person call center to answer all types of claimant questions.
An antiquated computer system hamstrung the department and forced some unemployment claimants into a frustrating filing process, with many waiting months for financial relief. Ige said today that 96% of initial unemployment claims have been successfully filed online.
Those who are interested may ring up the new call center at 833-901-2272 and 833-901-2275. Callers will be put in touch with individuals who will serve all claims, including regular unemployment insurance, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) and Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Service members (UCX).
Anne E. Perreira-Eustaquio, director of state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said the call center will be staffed with 40% locals and the rest will be individuals from the mainland who have been trained in resolving unemployment claims.
“We know we need to be out there to address the issues that claimants are having,” said Perreira-Eustaquio, who this month replaced Scott Murakami who resigned from his post in August after being on paid leave for two months.
Ige held a press conference this afternoon to discuss the latest update on the breakdown usage of the state’s coronavirus relief funds of $1.2 billion. Ige said 98% of the $863 million of the federal funds received by the state in April has been set aside to assist with response and recovery efforts.
“We do not plan to return any of the coronavirus relief funds,” Ige said today. “We plan to use every penny.”
To date, Ige said $51 million of $61 million has been used for personal protective equipment, $100 million for rent and mortgage relief, $10 million for job retraining programs, and $14 million to bring in nurses and health care workers from the mainland.
Another $75 million will be used for a new restaurant card program to help unemployed residents while also giving a financial boost to struggling local restaurants. The public-private partnership program, which runs from Oct. 20 to Dec. 15, will offer pre-paid $500 dining gift cards to individuals who have qualified for unemployment insurance.
“Since March, it’s estimated that about 60% of Hawai‘i’s businesses have fully or partially closed,” said Sherry Menor McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in Hawai‘i, in a statement. “This is a win-win because it provides people who’ve qualified a little extra cash and also helps local small businesses that are struggling.”
More details about the dining program will be announced in the coming days.
Also at the press conference, Ige said he is still considering furloughs for public workers to address the shortfall in the state budget due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are looking at furloughs and other measures to balance the budget,” Ige said.
Watch the livestream video above.
Meanwhile, federal law enforcement officials announced today a Honolulu man was arrested on allegations he fraudulently obtained more than $12.8 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.