3,000 jobless claims swamp isle office


POSTED: Friday, January 09, 2009

Unemployment filings nationwide are crashing government systems, and Hawaii and other states are adjusting to an unprecedented crush of newly jobless residents seeking benefits.




Where to go to file for unemployment

        To file an unemployment claim by phone, call 643-5555. To apply from outside Hawaii, dial (877) 215-5793.

For more information, visit the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations' Unemployment Insurance Division, 830 Punchbowl St., Honolulu; or visit it on the Web at


The state Unemployment Insurance Division is seeing about 2,000 to 3,000 new claims a week, about double what the office saw at this time last year, said state Labor Department spokesman Ryan Markham.

“;I've spoken to some of the administrators here, and for them it's been the biggest they've ever seen,”; Markham said.

It also means more overtime for the federally funded employees at the office. In recent months there have been up to 3,000 hours of overtime each month. Normally the office sees only about 200 to 300 hours of overtime a month.

Markham said the department will also hire 25 more people for the staff of about 150. The state also added 50 more automated phone lines.

Mondays and Tuesdays are the busiest mornings. But Markham said there has been a misconception that the earlier in the week you file, the more benefits you will get.

An unemployment check is based on the salary of a person's last job. An annual salary of $46,000 would bring home the maximum amount of $545 for unemployment checks.

A silver lining, Markham said, is that the average time a recipient is out of work has been typically about 13.2 weeks. Now it is about 13.7 weeks. The maximum allowed time to collect is 46 weeks.

“;Even in these tougher economic times, it's only increased by half a week,”; Markham said. “;That's kind of encouraging.”;

About 4.6 million Americans are collecting jobless benefits, a 26-year high. In Hawaii there are about 18,000 collecting benefits.

Systems in New York, North Carolina and Ohio were shut down completely by technical glitches and heavy traffic, and labor officials in several other states are reporting higher-than-normal use.

The nation's unemployment rate zoomed to 7.2 percent, a 16-year high, in December, the government announced today.

Some states attribute the increase in call volume in part to an extension of federal emergency unemployment compensation to 20 weeks from 13 weeks in late November.

In Kentucky, claims rose to 40,400 in November from 23,400 a year earlier, and a flood of new filers overwhelmed the state's unemployment Web site and phone lines on Monday.

In Honolulu, resident Dan Tucker, 53, was laid off in November from his job as sales manager of Hosoi Life Plan, a funeral planning business. He said he tried to file a claim soon afterward but was told to wait until January so his annual salary can be tallied up and he would get more money.

Tucker said he feels confident he will find another job soon, and that he has enough saved up to last him for a few more months.

Mark Solatorio, 42, of Kaneohe was employed for two days in 2008. He was laid off from a construction firm in December 2007 and had been waiting for a job since then.

“;I'm on the out-of-work list with the union,”; he said. “;But a lot of foreigners are getting the jobs. And there's just so many people out of work right now.”;

Solatorio said he had a two-day job to do some tiling at a Waikiki hotel. He was receiving benefits through most of 2008, and was at the office yesterday to file again.

“;Times have always been tough,”; he said. “;It's kind of uncertain now, though.”;


The Associated Press contributed to this report.