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State Says Unemployed Must Look for Work to Receive Benefits

Charles Krupa/AP

Hawaii will once again require people receiving unemployment insurance benefits to search for work as a COVID-19 testing program for travelers and growing vaccinations fuel recovery of the tourism industry, Gov. David Ige said Tuesday.

Those filing for unemployment will need to report at least three steps they took to look for work from May 30 through June 5 when they submit their weekly claim on June 6, said Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, the director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

These steps can include filling out job applications, interviewing for jobs and registering at the jobs website, she said.

Hawaii suspended the search-for-work requirement during the pandemic.

Hawaii's unemployment rate was 9% in March, the highest in the nation and above the national average of 6%. But the rate has improved since peaking at 23.8% in April 2020.

“At this point, the public health measures we implemented and the success of our vaccine program have allowed us to begin to re-energize our economy. 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 for people to fill positions,” Ige said at a news conference announcing the new policy.

The governor said he would maintain other pandemic-era unemployment insurance benefits, including a weekly $300 federal government supplement to weekly benefits. Ige said he believed this extra payment helps unemployed residents pay rent and other expenses, which helps the economy.

“As you know, the cost of living in Hawaii is higher than in other jurisdictions. And we have heard of many in our community who continue to struggle to find work and who continue to be unemployed,” Ige said.

The state will evaluate whether to continue this payment as the economy recovers and more people return to work, he said. Hawaii will also continue to pay unemployment insurance benefits to gig workers and independent contractors, the governor said.

About 106,000 people in Hawaii will need to look for work under the reinstated rule. Gig workers and contractors won't need to, nor will union members, Perreira-Eustaquio said.

Those who aren't able to return to work because they need to care for their children during the pandemic will be exempt if they receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Perreira-Eustaquio said. The regular unemployment insurance program doesn't include a childcare exemption.

She said the department would enforce the search-for-work requirement by randomly checking whether claimants actually made three job search contacts as declared. The department will also conduct internal audits to investigate whether claimants looked for work.

Finally, she said employers could go online to to report when a job applicant failed to show up for an interview or didn't accept a “suitable” job offer.

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