By Jim Bea Sampaga
The Hawaii Workers Center (HWC) and supporters are demanding the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) to allow in-person services to provide better unemployment insurance services.
Many low wage workers are having difficulty navigating the online application process for unemployment benefits, according to HWC.
“The continuing frustration is that timely communication from DLIR is absent,” said Rev. Samuel Domingo, Steering Committee Member of Hawaii Workers Center.
In early October, DLIR reported a total of 384,102 weekly initial unemployment claims have been filed in 2020. To better serve applicants and claimants, Governor David Ige and DLIR Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio launched a new unemployment hotline in October.
However, the call center only added frustration to unemployment benefits applicants and claimants.
“The call center process has been disappointing in that one had to call numerous times just to get through. The online challenge is that many applicants have no access to computers,” Domingo said.
“What is particularly challenging is that many of these workers are not proficient in English and that translation services are unable to meet the need.”
Domingo and HWC deem the DLIR offices are an urgent and essential service, just like banks, grocery stores and pharmacies. Relying solely on online and phone services will not help with the rising backlogs the DLIR is experiencing.
“Without in-person services, we feel that those most challenged, such as the many we have interviewed, their status will remain unchanged and their agonizing wait further prolonged,” Domingo explained.
“Following the example of banks and other businesses that are open for in-person service, DLIR, can ensure the safety of both their workers and the applicants.”
Moreover, HWC demands DLIR to provide services at community sites with language and computer assistance available. They also demand the DLIR to be more transparent and effective in providing communications and responses to applicant concerns via phone calls and email.
Along with opening in-person services, improving the call and email centers, HWC said in a press release that “DLIR must expedite the long-overdue modernization of the DLIR’s antiquated mainframe computer system that receives and assigns claims since thousands of more claims are likely.”
The Hawaii Workers Center is a non-profit resource and organization that addresses the issues and needs of low-wage workers and immigrants. Visit hawaiiworkerscenter.org to learn more.