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Half of jobless filers had not received checks

Bank survey says 51% of county residents worried about basic needs

More than half of Maui County residents who applied for unemployment benefits as of mid-May had not received payments and nearly half of Maui County households reported a decline in income since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, a Bank of Hawaii Foundation survey released Thursday showed.

The online and telephone survey of 1,096 Hawaii residents from May 14-21 by Anthology Research also showed that 51 percent of Maui County households are worried about being able to afford basic necessities.

The “COVID-19 in Hawaii: Facts and Insights” report is the largest research survey of its kind to provide a look at specific feelings, fears and financial hardships related to the pandemic that shut down tourism, the state’s main economic driver, a news release accompanying the survey said.

“Hawaii ranked as one of the most expensive states prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Peter Ho, chairman, president and CEO of Bank of Hawaii. “The research findings illustrate just how much the pandemic has exacerbated hardships for residents. Many are adding to their existing credit card debt or selling personal items to make ends meet.

“The hope is that this study will provide detail to shape discussions and future solutions to ease the financial, as well as emotional, toll on residents and business owners of our state.”

Focusing on the Maui County data, the survey showed that 26 percent of residents had filed for unemployment and the $600 federal weekly payments and 54 percent had not yet received any payments.

There was no response from the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to an email Thursday requesting information about why so many unemployment payments had not been received. Department officials have said that their antiquated systems have been overwhelmed by the volume of unemployment claims.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor reported Wednesday that the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina metropolitan area logged the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 33.4 percent for May. This is a 31 percentage point increase over May 2019.

The state labor department did issue a news release Thursday, reporting $1.9 billion in unemployment payments for 1.7 million weeks claimed since March 1.

“Despite nearly a thousand new claims a day over the past week, the department has managed to maintain a 93 percent level of payouts of the valid unemployment insurance claims that have come in since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Deputy Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio.

Among the major impediments to completing the unemployment compensation process is claimants using devices with out-of-state Internet Protocol (IP) addresses or Virtual Private Networks (VPN). “Benefits are stopped when it appears claimants are filing from outside of Hawaii so claimants should allow the system to detect their location when filing certifications,” said Perreira-Eustaquio.

Other claimant issues include incorrect deposit information, no weekly filing of certifications and failure to create a username and password in the claimant online portal.

Issues the department is working through include dealing with claimants working full time but filing for loss of part-time work, backdate claims, separation from work that requires investigation, and claimants who have filed multiple claims.

The department also is working to prevent fraud with the department, blocking $95 million in possible fraudulent payments.

“Unfortunately, bad actors, including organized crime, continue to attack the program designed to support our vulnerable residents during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Perreira-Eustaquio said.

The Bank of Hawaii Foundation survey indicates that residents of Neighbor Island counties are suffering financially more than Oahu residents, because of the greater reliance on the visitor, retail and restaurant/food service industries.

“Maui County residents are the most likely of all four counties to report a decline in household income and concern about whether they will be able to afford basic necessities,” the survey said.

A total of 48 percent of households in Maui County are experiencing a decline in income since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the survey.

Other Maui County data:

• 36 percent of residents consider themselves living paycheck to paycheck.

• 17 percent of residents have picked up food from the food bank or local food distribution drives in the last three months.

• 11 percent of households have experienced “high financial stress” due to the pandemic; 33 percent say they are feeling “no financial stress.”

• 18 percent of residents have experienced difficulty paying rent or mortgages in the past three months.

The survey also showed that 71 percent of Maui County residents believe they are following government rules on COVID-19 all the time. As far as whether the state and county governments have responded appropriately, 53 percent approve of state actions and 59 percent favor county actions.

“Neighbor Island residents as a whole are less concerned than their Oahu counterparts about the threat of contracting COVID-19 or passing it on to others,” the survey said. “They are also less concerned about the virus’ impact on travel restrictions or their ability to visit family.

“Additionally, Neighbor Island residents show higher levels of satisfaction with the state and their respective local county governments’ response to the pandemic.”

Only 67 percent of Oahu residents say they are following COVID-19 rules and only 38 percent approve of the state’s handling of the pandemic.

The margin of error in the survey is plus or minus 3.02 percent at 95 percent level of confidence.

The report can be found at www.boh.com/facts-figures.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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