The future of federal unemployment benefits in Hawai‘i is a mixed bag. Claimants should receive every dollar for which they’re eligible, but not necessarily in a timely fashion.
The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) on Tuesday said the federal government has communicated there will not be a weeklong lapse in $300 plus-up payments to those still relying on unemployment benefits as was initially feared.
President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill over the weekend, though his signature came on Sunday, one day after a projected deadline that put a week of the federal funding complements to state unemployment checks in serious jeopardy for approximately 14 million Americans.
“Yesterday, in a phone conference, (the US Department of Labor) informally advised the states that there is no gap week despite the bill being signed later than expected,” DLIR spokesman Bill Kunstman wrote in an email to Big Island Now Tuesday.
While Hawai‘i’s unemployed won’t be shorted out of a crucial federal benefit payout, many may have to wait weeks before they receive any financial support beyond what the state itself can offer.
DLIR on Monday explained that regulatory requirements may delay the disbursement of federal UI funds. Namely, the department must receive guidance from the US Department of Labor (USDOL) before it can fully implement the changes to the program and begin issuing payments.
The department added that it is unlikely all of the guidance will be issued before January, stating further that the state cannot pay benefits until it receives rules for the modified programs.
“Although we got informal guidance, we must wait on the formal guidance to confirm the programming changes required, so I don’t have an estimate on implementation dates at this time,” Kunstman said. “All the states (most) that have legacy systems are in the same boat.”
The exact numbers of Hawai‘i residents who will be impacted by benefit delays, which are as yet of undetermined lengths of time, is also difficult to pinpoint. DLIR is working with vendors to pull as much data from the UI mainframe as possible. Typically, reports to USDOL include initial claims and weeks claimed only.
However, the pandemic and the new unemployment programs and beneficiaries it has created muddy the statistical waters significantly.
“The mainframe program was designed for regular benefits, but with all the new programs (EB, PEUC, etc.) it’s not easy to pull out the numbers,” Kunstman said.
CARES Act extensions and a summary of federal benefits included in Washington’s relief bill are as follows:
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)
- Provides up to 11 weeks of an additional $300 weekly benefit to eligible claimants.
- A claimant must be eligible for regular UI, PUA, EB20, or PEUC to receive FPUC.
- Once implemented, FPUC is available between Dec. 27, 2020, and the week ending March 13, 2021.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
- Increases the number of weeks of benefits an individual may claim through the PEUC program from 13 to 24.
- Once implemented, PEUC is available between Dec. 27, 2020 and the week ending March 13, 2021 and allows individuals receiving benefits as of March 13 to continue through April 10, 2021, as long as the individual has not reached the maximum number of weeks.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
- Increases the number of weeks of benefits an individual may claim from 39 to 50.
- Once implemented, PUA is available between Dec. 27, 2020 and the week ending March 13, 2021 and allows individuals receiving benefits as of March 13 to continue through April 10, 2021, as long as the individual has not reached the maximum number of weeks.
- Limits payment of retroactive PUA benefits for new PUA claimants to weeks of unemployment after Dec. 1, 2020.
- Provides states authority to waive overpayments made without fault on the part of the individual or when such repayment would violate equity and good conscience.
- Claimants will be required to provide income verification for eligibility to qualify for PUA. Existing and new claimants will have 90 days from Dec. 27 to submit documentation, but beginning on Jan. 31 new, initial claims will have 21 days to submit the documentation.
- Extends through March 14, 2021, a provision in the CARES Act that amended the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide federal support to cover 50% of the costs of unemployment benefits for employees of state and local governments and non-profit organizations.
- Extends through March 14, 2021, the CARES Act provision that reimbursed states for the cost of waiving the “waiting week” for regular unemployment compensation. Sets the reimbursement percentage for weeks ending after Dec. 26, 2020 at 50% instead of 100% federal funding.
- Extends through March 14, 2021, the CARES Act provision that gave state unemployment offices temporary, emergency authority to use “non-merit” staff.
- Extends through March 14, 2021, the provision in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that provided temporary full federal financing of Extended Benefits (EB) for high-unemployment states. States are normally required to pay 50% of the cost of EB, which is a program in permanent law.
- Extends through March 14, 2021, the waiver of interest on federal loans states have taken in order to pay state unemployment benefits.
Important note: None of the benefits described above, nor unemployment benefits of any kind, are available to employees who are terminated for cause, quit their jobs without good cause, refuse to return to work, or refuse to receive full-time pay. Attempts to collect benefit payments in these situations could be viewed as fraudulent. Investigation of job separation is part of the eligibility determination process.
For more information about unemployment insurance and other labor issues, visit the FAQs at https://labor.hawaii.gov/covid-19-labor-faqs/.