Maui County awaits loss of funding

 Federally funded extended unemployment compensation – that more than 8,500 Maui County residents have received since 2008 – will no longer be available after Nov. 30 unless Congress acts soon.Based on the failure of a House vote on a bill to extend federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said late Thursday afternoon that benefits will expire at the end of the month, though news reports indicate that there is a glimmer of hope for the benefits.

The EUC program adds 47 weeks of unemployment insurance after the 26 weeks of state-funded unemployment insurance runs out.

“With over $416 million in EUC benefits issued in Hawaii since 2008, the federal extended unemployment compensation supplemented incomes of our jobless population and reduced the impact of the rising unemployment due to the national recession,” said Pearl Imada Iboshi, director of the state labor department, in a news release earlier this week.

Those currently receiving EUC will continue getting their payments, which are a maximum of $559 a week, until their payment tier runs out. There will be no progression to the next tier in the three-tier program, which is broken down into 20-week, 14-week and 13-week periods.

“The end of the EUC program means that each month approximately 1,600 individuals who exhaust their 26 weeks of regular benefits will not be able to apply for the first tier of federal EUC benefits,” said Colleen LaClaire, deputy director of the state labor department. “In addition, 2,500 individuals who exhaust their first and second tier of EUC benefits each month will not be able to move to the next tier of benefits.”

Unemployed workers should update their information on Hirenet Hawaii, the state’s online job listing service, and seek free job assistance services at the One-Stop Career Centers. For more information and assistance, unemployed workers should go to the websites hirenethawaii.com or hawaii.gov/labor/rapidresponse.

If the unemployment benefits program is extended, it will require passage by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House. An attempt by House Democrats on Thursday to pass a bill (HR 6419) that would extend unemployment benefits for three months failed in a floor vote, according to Marvin Buenconsejo, communications director for the office of Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii. The congresswoman whose district includes Maui County was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill.

LaClaire said the department has been informing clients of the potential cutoff of unemployment benefits. The department will continue to accept applications despite the uncertainty about the program.

From July 2008 to September, 8,500 Maui County residents have been assisted by the EUC program, the Research & Statistics Division of the labor department said. Statewide, the number is 48,000.

The department reported that $72 million in EUC payments have been made to Maui County residents since 2008.

Each week, 60 Maui County residents exhaust their state unemployment compensation. Since 2008, 1,500 long-term unemployed people in Maui County exhausted even their extended EUC period, the department reported.

“It’s not a great time, around the holidays” to be cutting off unemployment benefits, said LaClaire in an interview on Wednesday.