Job-search requirement reinstated for unemployment benefits in Hawaii

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May 21—Hawaii is reinstating a rule that requires people to search for work in order to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Gov. David Ige announced Thursday that the change will begin May 30 in a move to help boost employment as the state emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

The requirement to search for at least three jobs a week to qualify for unemployment benefits was waived a year ago after the pandemic started devastating the economy and unemployment claims surged to more than 230, 000.

"At this point the public health measures we implemented and the success of the vaccine program have allowed us to reenergize our economy, " the governor said at a Capitol news conference. "With our pre-travel testing program in place, we're seeing more people traveling to Hawaii, and as tourism has picked up, more employers are looking to fill positions."

Hawaii joins dozens of other states that already have reimposed the job-search requirement or plan to reimpose it soon, including Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut, which also announced the requirement's return Thursday.

However, Ige said Hawaii will continue the extra $300 weekly federal unemployment payment, also known as "plus-up."

More than 20 states with Republican governors have dropped the extra jobless aid, arguing that it allows low-wage workers to avoid looking for jobs because they can make as much with the federal program as they can working.

Ige, a Democrat, said he isn't dropping the plus-up for now because there are still too many people struggling to make ends meet, and the extra cash will help them with rent and other expenses. He said the extra benefit is still helping the economy overall.

In addition to the plus-up, the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program for gig and contract workers will continue, as will the the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

Ige said the effectiveness of these programs will be evaluated as his administration continues to monitor the impact of the pandemic on residents and the state's economic recovery.

In addition, he said, state officials are looking at ideas and incentive programs in other states designed to get people back to work.

The federal plus-up, which was $600 a week early in the pandemic, expired for a period, then was reinstated at $300 a week. The latest payment, which was included in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion economic rescue package, is scheduled to end nationwide Sept. 6.

According to the latest figures from the state, 55, 350 people were unemployed statewide in April for a total seasonally adjusted labor force of 649, 750. The state's unemployment rate was at 8.5 % in April, an improvement from 9.1 % in March, while the national rate was 6.1 %.

Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said the state is working toward a goal of reemploying the unemployed.

"It is our hope that by reinstating the work-search requirement, it will help more unemployed workers connect with available job openings, " she said.

Beginning the week of May 30 through June 5, those applying for unemployment must make at least three job search contacts each week. This includes registering for work on HireNet Hawaii, applying for jobs by submitting a resume or attending a job fair.

Individuals must keep a written log of job contacts and must be ready to submit the log to the Unemployment Insurance Division upon request. Failing to do so could result in becoming ineligible for the benefits.

The job-search requirement applies to anyone who has lost a full-time job and is on regular unemployment or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. Those who do not have to meet the requirement include anyone who is still attached to their regular full-time employer, members of a union that offers job placement services or anyone receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

"We estimate that approximately 106, 000 claimants will be needing to look for work, " Perreira-Eustaquio told reporters. "They will continue to reach out to employers and individual postings to see if there is work available and if there is anything that suits their needs."

Meanwhile, the state's unemployment department has temporarily suspended its unemployment insurance call center operations at the Hawai 'i Convention Center until Monday while the workspace undergoes pest control treatment.

Bedbugs reportedly were found on the third floor, but officials said the problem was isolated to select rooms and public areas. The convention center otherwise remains open, officials said.

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