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VOICES: Closed UI offices a black eye for state

On this Labor Day week, a day to commemorate and celebrate the struggles and accomplishments of the labor movement in Hawai‘i and the U.S., we must sadly note that the state of Hawai‘i continues to fail thousands of unemployed workers by keeping UI (Unemployment Insurance) offices closed and refusing to provide direct, in-person services and assistance to these workers in filing their claims and receiving payments.

For some workers, the only way their claim will be filed or resolved is with in-person help. These workers lack access to technology or are not technology-savvy or are not proficient in English.

James, 67, had difficulty applying. A family member living in another state tried to help him, but his application was then flagged as a suspicious claim. He calls and waits for long periods of time, and has tried for months without success to get an appointment to straighten out his claim. He has found part-time work and is trying to climb out of debt. He now lives in his car.

Barry, another unemployed worker, has had much trouble filing his claim. He says he has called the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations “thousands of times.” He is broke and now lives on the streets. His phone service has been cut off. His only recourse would be to seek help in person from the staff at a DLIR office.

The DLIR has yet to say how workers like James or Barry will be helped and their claims resolved and how DLIR will resolve the massive backlog of workers’ claims.

After 17 months of DLIR’s closure of UI offices, the department has backtracked on its announcement that it would reopen its offices on Sept. 7, citing the increase in COVID-19 cases and the anger of claimants.

Yet many medical providers, pharmacies, banks, credit unions, grocery stores and other essential services are open and actively serve the public. It is clear DLIR could safely reopen its offices and provide assistance to unemployed workers and their families.

DLIR’s unjustified refusal to open up its offices for direct, in-person services which could resolve the issues of thousands of claimants is unconscionable and has greatly added to the stress and suffering of these workers and their families. Some ofthese claimants have been waiting for many months and, in some cases, over a year, to receive their entitled benefits.

We call on Gov. David Ige and Lt. Gov. Josh Green to intervene on behalf of Hawai‘i’s unemployed workers.

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Raymond Catania of Puhi, submitted this piece on behalf of the Hawai‘i Workers Center, a nonprofit resource and organizing center serving unemployed and low-wage workers and immigrants. Visit HWC’s website at hawaiiworkerscenter.org or email hiworkerscenter@gmail.com for more information.
Source: The Garden Island

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