Up to 100,000 residents on unemployment benefits are expected to receive $ 500 in pre-loaded debit cards to be issued at local restaurants as the state brought on board the first of 200 more agents on Wednesday to process unemployment claims, including the toughest Cases where people continue to question their denial of eligibility.
Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO, said the newly created Restaurant Card program, funded by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, is designed to help people who received unemployment benefits after March 25, as well as the restaurants in trouble and local ones Farmers who feed them to the Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce and Denise Hayashi Yamaguchi, executive director of the Hawai’i Agricultural Foundation.
People on unemployment benefits don’t need to apply for the cards and should receive them automatically in the mail in the next few weeks, Menor-McNamara said.
They are non-transferable and valid between October 20 and December 15 at 11:59 p.m., she said. The cards can be used at any local restaurant across the state and are intended to cover your entire restaurant bill, including alcohol, she said.
Without help, around 60% of restaurants in Hawaii say they are expected to close for good in the age of COVID-19, Menor-McNamara said.
Every US dollar spent in a restaurant is equivalent to US $ 1.82 on Hawaii’s economy and could save 1,000 restaurant jobs, she said, citing data from the University of Hawaii economic research organization.
At a press conference with Governor David Ige on Wednesday, Yamaguchi encouraged island restaurants to develop promotions to get people into their stores to use their new cards.
In a statement, House Majority Leader Rep. Della Au Belatti (D, Moiliili-Makiki-Tantalus) said: “I am delighted that the Ige administration will launch this innovative program that uses federal funds to synchronize unemployed people in our country to support community and strengthen our local restaurant industry.
“Our state needs such creative solutions to revitalize our economy and provide urgently needed help to our residents who are currently unemployed. The Hawai’i Restaurant Card Program aims to provide relief for both communities injured as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “
At the press conference on Wednesday, Ige and Anne E. Perreira-Eustaquio, Director of the Ministry of Labor and Industrial Relations, announced the hiring of 200 new agents to process unemployment claims.
The first 50 started on Wednesday, 120 more should start on Monday and the rest should come on board by the end of next week, said Perreira-Eustaquio.
Most – 120 – will work in a “virtual call center” on the mainland and will be trained by a mainland company that operates in 13 states and specializes in difficult jobless claims.
Another 80 will be local residents who will work in DLIR offices across the state, Perreira-Eustaquio said.
The new call center went into operation on Wednesday afternoon.
“We know that there are some in our community who couldn’t get benefits,” said Ige. “The call center is exciting.”
More than 95% of unemployment insurance applications have been processed, and every week more than $ 100 million in state and federal benefits are paid to those who are eligible for about $ 3 billion, Ige said.
However, the newly hired agents are trained to pinpoint the most intricate cases of people denied permission – rather than just taking a message, Perreira-Eustaquio said.
She called them “those really tough claims” and “the really tough calls”.
There are currently about 8,000 people “still to review” after being initially denied the combination of state and federal weekly unemployment insurance benefits, Perreira-Eustaquio said.
Another group is much more fluid and could have qualified for unemployment for a week. In another week it was rejected for various reasons, such as: B. because she refused to work, was sick, left town or because she had moved.
“That number changes weekly,” she said.
Concern had grown among members of the House Select Committee for COVID-19 that Hawaii had only spent 6% of its federal funds, which is currently subject to the condition that unspent funds must be returned by December 30th.
On September 24, US Senator Mazie Hirono publicly accused Ige of devising a plan to ensure that all federal aid is spent on the islands.
In April, the state received $ 863 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, and Hirono said that $ 321 million was undispensed and unallocated as of August 31, based on the state’s public data.
Former state senator Jill Tokuda, who co-chairs a subcommittee of the House Special Committee on how the state spends federal aid, had raised similar concerns that Hawaii was risking the possibility of not receiving full federal aid.
But Tokuda joined Ige at the news conference on Wednesday when Ige announced that 98% of the $ 863 million federal budget had been allocated to “protecting public health, revitalizing the economy and strengthening our community.”
The money includes payment for the new jobless claim center and the new restaurant card program.
Unspent funds will be placed in the state unemployment insurance trust fund and used to repay a $ 1 billion loan secured to pay unemployment benefits to local residents, Ige said.
“The state will not let any federal funds go unused, as these funds represent a vital lifeline for our residents and businesses,” said Ige in a statement after his press conference. “We will use every penny. I would like to express my appreciation to the House and the Senate for the close cooperation with my administration as well as the counties, non-profit partners and companies that have worked to ensure that this money is paid out to our community. “
The funds, said Ige, have already been committed for:
>> $ 100 million in rental and mortgage relief.
>> $ 14 million to bring nurses and health care workers off the mainland.
>> $ 10 million to retrain jobs.
>> $ 31 million for school equipment and connectivity.
>> $ 61 million in personal protective equipment and accessories for schools, hospitals and businesses.
Unemployment insurance call center numbers: