2020 Special COVID-19 Update

To view a PDF of Representative Johanson's 2020 Special COVID-19 Update, click here.



The past few months have been an unprecedented challenge.  As we navigate these times together as a state and a community, it can be difficult to make sense of the state and county orders and new governmental policies as they frequently change.  Although it is unknown what the summer months will bring, we will get through this together, as a community.

In the beginning of May, Governor Ige issued a "Safer at Home" order, which focused on a gradual reopening of our economy and State. As this newsletter is going to print, essential and designated businesses are continuing or starting to reopen. Shopping malls are reopening with safety guidelines and discussions are happening regarding the reopening of dine-in restaurants. This gradual reopening of our economy will help to reduce unemployment rates and will provide much needed economic activity in our State.

However, we must not let our guard down. We are in a “new normal," which includes practicing social distancing and wearing masks or face coverings in public. We must also make sure that we continue to watch out for the most vulnerable community members who may adversely be affected by this virus. The harsh reality is that it only takes one person to unknowingly carry and inadvertently spread COVID-19 to others.  Although Hawaii’s curve has flattened, we are still experiencing  positive cases. The more we reopen our economy and our State, the more we increase potential for community spread.  We must remain aware and vigilant. 

My office will continue to keep you updated as new    information becomes available. Please subscribe to our emails for the most up-to-date information by emailing: [email protected] or visiting our newly-revamped website www.repjohanson.com.  Our website and our emails are the best ways to get you information in a timely manner as well as provide important resources to help our community thrive amidst this pandemic.

Thank you for continuing to support each other during these trying times. We are stronger together.


It has become painfully clear that Hawaii experienced a massive unemployment crisis triggered by the COVID19 virus beginning in mid March of this year. The number of unemployment filings exploded from a pre-COVID19 volume of 20,000 claims to over 232,000 in three and a half weeks. This unprecedented spike has never occurred in any Hawaii recession. Like every other state in the Nation, Hawaii struggled to intake and process such exponential growth in unemployment claims. Those struggles led to many frustrated people who found themselves unemployed and without money.  Desperate times call for desperate measures. Sometimes, the biggest problems can only be fixed by rolling up one's sleeves and personally getting in the trenches to fix the problem. 

That's exactly what the House of Representatives did in taking the lead to build the unemployment claims and call center operation at the Convention Center.

Over the past several weeks, Representative Johanson had the privilege of helping to stand up this operation that involved hundreds of volunteers from a collaboration of the Legislature, unions including HGEA, HSTA, and UHPA, and the Executive Branch.  The Department of Labor trained 687 volunteers to help address the state's backlogged unemployment claims—an unprecedented partnership of such magnitude stood up literally over one weekend.  This partnership exponentially expanded the state’s

capacity to process claims, thereby helping to pay out claimants and tackling this crisis head-on.

Representative Johanson has also had the privilege of volunteering on a daily basis every week since the operation’s mid-April inception—personally processing thousands of unemployment claims himself.  The operation recently added hundreds of phones to be able to better address the many calls and provide better and more nuanced answers and help.  Since the project began, over 70% of claimants have either been paid out or received a decision, helping to reduce the 232,000 backlogged claims.  Although progress has been made, much work remains to be done to help our people. 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA)

What is it?   Coverage created by Congress to extend unemployment benefits to workers previously not covered by the unemployment system..  Because this is a new federal mandate, no state had the underlying infrastructure to pay workers who were heretofore not covered and eligible for unemployment.

Who is eligible for PUA?   People who: 1) are self-employed, including gig workers, freelancers, and independent contractors; 2)are seeking part-time employment; 3) have an insufficient work history to qualify for benefits; 4) have exhausted all rights to regular or extended benefits under state or federal law or to Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC); 5) have been laid off from churches and religious institutions and are not eligible for benefits under state law; or 6) are otherwise not qualified for regular or extended benefits or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).

Why haven’t I received my benefits?   No infrastructure previously existed to pay out PUA benefits; the Tax Department is currently building the system to cross-reference your tax submissions to assess eligibility.


Unemployment Insurance (UI) FAQs

If I return to work, can I still collect UI?

You can retroactively collect the unemployment benefit for the weeks you weren’t working, even if you have returned to work.  You may still be eligible for UI even if you’re working reduced hours that earn less than your weekly benefit amount.


If I am called back to work, but don’t want to return because of COVID19 or other issues, can I refuse?

If you refuse work from your employer, for whatever reason, you will become ineligible for UI benefits.


Who do I contact to address issues with my claim?

You can call the UI Call Center at (833) 901-2275 to speak to someone about your claim, your questions, or to reset your password.  An additional 120 phone lines have been added to the call center to help.


I’m having trouble getting into the system?

Recently, the Department created a mirror system that doesn't exist on the state mainframe with most other major governmental functions.  This has allowed more capacity in the system and much greater rates of people accessing the UI system.


I was receiving my benefits, but I stopped getting paid what happened?

The UI process is one that requires constantly filing your weekly certifications and ensuring that the information you self-report matches what your employer is reporting to the Department.

If you don’t certify on a timely basis, have a change in your status (e.g. return to work, total layoff, etc.), or your employer reports something new (e.g. failure to show up for work, misconduct, etc.), the system may temporarily halt your UI benefit payments.

If you stopped receiving UI benefits, you should check your account or inquire with the UI office.


Common Unemployment Issues Experienced

Access:  Claim Filing or Weekly Certification Issues

  • Should be better, shadow system, more access
  • Late at night and weekends tend to have more bandwidth and capacity to accommodate accessing the system.

Certification Issues

  • You will need to certify for all the weeks claiming unemployment.
  • If you do not certify, the system will not pay out your benefit; it's a claimant verifying that indeed, they were not working and should be eligible for UI.

Your Status Says "Pending"

This could mean any number of potential scenarios precluding your claim from being paid out or being denied.  Here are some frequent scenarios that delay processing of a UI claim that can be remedied by a claimant or an employer:

  • You made a mistake typing in your name and/or social security number (the entire system relies on accuracy of these two critical components)
  • You haven't done your weekly certifications
  • Your employer hasn't submitted your earnings for you in the base period;

Regular Issues that delay processing of a UI claim because it requires a Claims Examiner to adjudicate the issue between the employer and employee:

  • Voluntary Leave – if you voluntarily left your current or a previous job in the eligibility period
  • Misconduct/Disciplinary Issue – Your previous or current employer has flagged an employee as having a misconduct or disciplinary issue (even if it's from a previous employer) that has yet to be adjudicated or closed out
  • Did Not Show Up for Work – an employer offered you work, but you chose not to show up and actually work
  • Pension Income from a Previous Job – this may affect your benefit amount


Please view the COVID-19 COMMUNITY RESOURCES page.


As a young, 6th grade student at Moanalua Elementary, Representative Johanson, was privileged to receive an award from then State Senator Dennis Nakasato.  It left a lasting impact.  Likewise, Representative Johanson is committed to recognizing and nurturing the next generation of leadership.  Since 2013, Representative Johanson has awarded two outstanding 6th Graders at all eight of the elementary schools in our district with a special award and trophy to recognize academic achievement, leadership potential, and good citizenship,  In spite of COVID-19, this year is no exception.  Congratulations to these outstanding 6th grade students and to all of the Class of 2020 graduates!


  • Faith Ellis
  • Abdalla Mohamed


  • Marian Magday
  • Francisco Vidal


  • Isabel Leung
  • Hana Lilly


  • Bree Balisacan
  • Dustyn Hashimoto


  • Jasmine Dela Cruz
  • Abigail Kimmons


  • Eunice Cho
  • Kaniel Lopez-Otero


  • Alohi Hetrick
  • Gregory Cachero


  • Rebekah Huillet
  • Nehemiah Hill


In May, the Legislature reconvened to focus on    stabilizing the state budget in anticipation of a $1 billion shortfall in state revenues, maximizing federal CARES Act funds, and building COVID-19-related, pandemic state infrastructure.  The sharp decline in tourism and economic activity as well as the stay-at-home orders have equaled a sharp decline in tax revenue. The Legislature returned to session to ensure availability of state funding, such as the use of rainy day and federal funds, to avoid drastic public cuts and furloughs that would compound Hawaii’s troubles and further confound economic recovery. Through the  budget and federal funds, the Legislature shored up the state’s ability to better address pandemics such as COVID-19 by funding disease outbreak and control support, such as contract tracing and thermal screenings at our airports, IT upgrades for unemployment and SNAP benefit processing, and economic recovery efforts. The Legislature plans to reconvene again in June to address additional budget issues, continuing COVID-19 response, and the most pressing legislative proposals.