Hawaii Updates: 70,000 Jobless Claims Pending; No New Cases; Facing Shortfall, State Borrows $600M

May 18, 2020

Updated: 5/18/2020, 1:17 p.m.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has processed about 70 percent of the COVID-19-related claims filed through yesterday, leaving another 30 percent or 69,203 claims pending.

The state paid out $319.4 million between May 1 and May 15, the department reported today. 

Applicants continue to file for unemployment benefits, with claims from last week numbering 154,680.

The state has been slowly making its way through a backlog of claims that was exacerbated by an old computer system and lack of staffing. The department has increased workers and volunteers to process claims and answer calls from those seeking information. 

For instructions on how to file new claims for unemployment or to check on previous claims, visit the DLIR website

Employees such as gig workers and independent contractors who have been turned down for regular unemployment benefits, can apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

Where we stand

Hawaii recorded no new coronavirus cases today, continuing a run of days with zero or few cases, spurring the moves to reopen the economy.

The state health department reported the number of recorded cases at 640; deaths stand at 17. The case count for Oahu is at 415, Maui County at 117, Hawaii Island at 77 and Kauai County at 21. There are 10 cases diagnosed out of state.

Hawaii takes on $600M in debt in face of cash shortfall

The state quietly borrowed $600 million last month from the Bank of America when it appeared it would run out of cash because of the COVID-19 emergency. 

The action came to light during the state House Finance Committee's review of how the state would spend $1.8 billion in federal CARES Act funds and other budget meaures.

Finance Chair Sylvia Luke says the payments for the $600 million debt are due in April and October 2021. But given the coronavirus-crippled economy, she's worried the state may be unable to pay it back.

“It is a concern. We have been told by [the Department of] Budget and Finance that this is something that they utilize on a regular basis but in smaller amounts, not to the extent that has forced the administration to borrow -- only because the market became very unstable in March," said Luke.

"The other option as opposed to paying back in cash is to float bonds in the amount of $600 million and then pay it back that way. But we will be talking to the administration and the department [about] how they can manage this better because $600 million is a lot of money for a note.”

If the state is unable to come up with the money, she says there could be consequences for the state -- such as having to borrow at higher interest rates. She says it would be like someone not paying their mortgage.

According to Bloomberg News in mid-April, Hawaii was one of three states that borrowed money from Bank of America to cover temporary cash shortfalls because of the shutdown of the states' economies. Massachusetts and Rhode Island also took out loans from Bank of America.

The crises faced by the states are expected to overtake that brought on by the 2008 real estate meltdown, which precipitated the last recession. To ride out that storm, Hawaii instituted furloughs, four-day school weeks and other budget-cutting measures.

Bloomberg quotes Matt Fabian, a partner in the research firm Municipal Market Analytics, as saying that a growing number of governments are selling debt to banks or taking out lines of credit. He said its an understandable and prudent move given that they can get cash quickly. 

Hawaii's regulatory filing says the state took out the general obligation bond anticipatory notes on April 14. Under its terms, $300 million is due to the Bank of American on April 15, 2021 at an interest rate of 1.46% and $300 million in October 15, 2021 at a rate of 1.76%.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

State arrests another visitor who it says broke quarantine

Hawaii Attorney General special agents arrested Abdulla Aliyev, a Azerbaijan citizen who lives in Reseda, California, on Saturday for violating the mandatory 14-day quarantine order, the state said.

The agents took him into custody at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport before he was scheduled to board a return flight to Los Angeles, according to a state news release.

Aliyev was charged with violating the quarantine required of arriving tourists and returning residents. According to the release, the visitor arrived on Oahu on May 1 and immediately left an Airbnb condominium he had rented in Waikiki. The agents said his social media posts showed he had visited the beach, Diamond Head, Foster Botanical Garden and other locations, and also rode the bus.

The state search for Aliyev after citizens alerted authorities to the activities that he chronicled on social media. When he was told in response to one of his posts that he was violating the emergency rule, he claimed to have been given a ticket by Honolulu police, which the state was not true.

Aliyev was booked on violating the quarantine order and unsworn falsification to authority. Bail was set at $2,000.

 

“We and most people in Hawai‘i have little tolerance for anyone, either a visitor or returning resident, who flouts the emergency rules currently in place to protect everyone and to help keep the coronavirus infection rate in Hawai‘i low," said state Attorney General Clare Connors in the news release.

 

"If you are out and about in violation of a self-quarantine order, it is likely you will be reported and arrested." 

 

She encouraged visitors to stay away from the islands untl the emergency is over.

 

Meantime, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reported another increase in tourists arriving in the islands. On Saturday, 991 people arrived in Hawaii, 285 of them visitors.

 

Another 307 are returning residents, 119 said they are relocating to the state, 122 are crew members, 58 are military, 80 are transiting travelers and 10 are exempted from the quarantine by the state.

 

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Editor's note: We’d like to hear how you’re coping with the latest developments in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus. You can call our talkback line at 808-792-8217. Or e-mail us at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.