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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 2, 2002

Unemployment checks delayed due to backlog

By Frank Cho
Advertiser Staff Writer

A backlog of filings at the state Department of Labor is delaying federal unemployment checks for thousands of Hawai'i residents put out of work after Sept. 11.

State labor officials say more than 5,000 Hawai'i residents have filed claims for federal unemployment insurance since they started taking applications for the federal program in April. At least 1,500 of the claims are still waiting to be processed, causing delays of up to three weeks for unemployment checks to be sent out.

"It's very difficult. You have to plan if you can pay your bills or not and that is very difficult," said Betty Waller, an unemployed Hawai'i resident who has been on the state program since late last year.

The state said it has added staff to help process the claims faster and expects to have the backlog cleared up by next week.

"We have been inundated," said Linda Uesato, the state Labor Department's unemployment insurance administrator. "We have been working overtime and weekends to get these claims done. But we also have to be careful because we don't want to make overpayments."

In a special session last year, the Hawai'i Legislature approved the extension of unemployment benefits by 13 weeks as part of a State Additional Benefit program because of the severe downturn in the economy following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Typically, the benefits last 26 weeks.

The state, however, stopped paying checks to people on the state's extended program on April 8, after the federal government approved its own program to extend unemployment benefits for up to 13 weeks.

Uesato said those who qualify for the federal benefits program need to reapply with the state or they will not receive checks.

The state program ends June 30, but the federal program will continue through the end of the year, she said.

Reach Frank Cho at fcho@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8088.