Covid-19 has resulted in the State of Hawai‘i having the highest unemployment rate in the Nation at 37%. Government’s response, or lack thereof, has been unacceptable. Covid has made it clear that we must take much better care of our workforce, and to provide for them at their time of need. We must look at unemployment insurance system reform, allow workers to remain attached to their jobs, with requirements that employers maintain workers’ benefits. Regarding workers who have lost their jobs, we must look at expanding the unemployment insurance system to cover more workers. We must expand, not cut, food assistance and security programs that many are relying on during the Covid crisis.
We must also make long-overdue investments to upgrade and modernize Hawai‘i’s unemployment system technology and ensure the Department of Labor conducts strong oversight of state unemployment systems to make sure that unemployed workers can quickly and efficiently access the benefits they are owed and so desperately need.
No one should have to choose between protecting their health and earning a living. Paid sick leave is important even under normal circumstances, but during a pandemic, it becomes critical. This is especially true for low-income workers who are less likely to be able to work from home. Government must implement paid sick leave protections as part of the Covid response for all workers. In addition, Government, must take immediate action to protect essential workers on the job. Our workforce is stronger if they are insured, healthy, and confident that their benefits are secure regardless of their employment status.