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Tips for Navigating Hawaii's Unemployment Benefits Process

Reading time: 4 Minutes

May 1st, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it major economic impacts. Much of Hawaii's workforce has found itself without work, as non-essential businesses shutter their doors and the tourism industry comes to a virtual standstill.

Until this dramatic slowing of the economy, Hawaii had one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates, at 2.7 percent. However, post COVID-19 shutdown, that rate has risen to nearly 25 percent. To handle the unprecedented influx of claims, the state's unemployment office has created a new website and increased its staff from seven people to more than 50, but the system is still taxed, and many applicants are finding it difficult to even log in.

With this in mind, it's a good idea to prepare yourself ahead of time, so you'll be prepared throughout your application process. Here are a few tips and steps that can help guide you through successfully.

Be Ready for Delays

During the application, be prepared for a process that takes time. You may receive messages such as, “High volume. Try again later," and the unemployment website warns that you may receive an error message or have your connection dropped. If this happens, continue trying throughout the 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. system hours.

Figure Out Your Eligibility Ahead of Time

Determine whether you are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. Those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 are eligible, and some with reduced hours are also eligible, depending on the number of hours and amount of earning each week. A separate website is available for independent contractors and self-employed workers: pua.hawaii.gov.

Eligibility for benefits has been expanded to include individuals who have had to quit work to care for a family member sick with COVID and those who have had to leave their jobs to care for their children after schools and daycares closed. These expanded funds are being allotted through PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) under the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act that set aside $2 trillion in federal relief.

Make Sure You've Prepped Your Employment History and Direct Deposit Account

When registering, you will be asked about your recent employment going back 18 months. Create a list of these employers along with their addresses, phone numbers and your dates of employment.

When the state distributes benefits, it will do so via direct deposit, so have your bank routing number and checking or savings account number ready, as well. Prepare this information ahead of time and keep it handy in case of any interruption while submitting the form.

Create Your Account

On a mobile device, laptop or desktop computer, create an account at huiclaims.hawaii.gov. Select the heading “Claimant Services" on the right-hand menu where you will be directed to the login page. Choose “Create Account," and follow the prompts to create a username and select security questions. Once this initial segment is complete, be on the lookout for an email with a temporary password that is valid for 24 hours.

Register for Benefits

Return to the login page and sign in with your username and temporary password. After creating a new password, you will see a page with a Task List. Choosing the top selection, “File an Initial Claim," will direct you to fill out a series of pages. The first page asks for basic information from social security number to name and date of birth. In addition to questions about marital status and years of education, you will be asked to fill in your work history. This is where your previously prepared list of employers will be helpful.

Next, you will be asked a series of simple eligibility review questions about your previous work and current availability. Finally, fill in the direct deposit information that you prepared ahead of time.

Once you hit submit, you will be notified to wait for an email, which should arrive within two weeks (although some applicants have reported waiting for five weeks or longer to get confirmation). While waiting, you can visit the homepage and click “Check Your Claim Status" at the top of the page.

File a Claim for Each Week You're Out of Work

Once a confirmation email arrives, you will be directed to return to the homepage to file claim certifications. The state requires you to file this claim certification after each week you are unemployed, or partially unemployed. Log into your account and click on “File a Claim Certification." At the end of each week, you will enter the date of the week you are filing for. You will be asked to document any work, listing the employer, hours worked and gross earnings.

The funds should become available within a month. While unemployment benefits usually come with a requirement that you continue to actively search and apply for work, the state has temporarily lifted that requirement because of the pandemic, meaning you won't be required to look for jobs in this emergency situation to receive unemployment benefits.

Know What Alternate Assistance Options are Available to You

State unemployment benefits are a vital lifeline right now for many Hawaii residents out of work or facing reduced income, but there are also other community assistance options to look into while you wait for those benefits to kick in. We've compiled a list of resources for those in need, here.

Bank of Hawaii is also offering a range of financial assistance programs, including mortgage forbearance and personal loan extensions. You can learn more, here.

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