The State of Hawaii is poised to change unemployment rules to get more people back to work. Among the changes is requiring the unemployed to look for work in order to keep getting benefits.

Business owners say this is long overdue.

The changes are welcome news for the owner of Ruby Tuesday. He owns nine restaurants and he says he could use at least 100 more workers.

Owner Rick Nakashima considers himself one of the luckier ones because he can still fully staff the restaurants on all the shifts.

“The problem is if we have people that are out for some reason calling in sick or some personal matter, they have to take care of, it leaves us short. It’s real troublesome to come into the restaurant and see your managers on the cooking line,” he said.

The lack of staffing has been more of a challenge for the owner of Il Gelato Hawaii, which has four locations. The owner needs about 15 workers, so store hours have been cut short.

“Right now we would like to open longer days and also we would like to open our Waikiki store as soon as we can and for that we need more people,” said Dirk Koeppenkastrop, owner of Il Gelato Hawaii.

Chamber of Commerce Hawaii released a survey showing that almost 93% of the businesses want the state to require unemployed workers to look for work as a condition to receive benefits. In the past, they had to apply for at least three jobs per week. That stopped during the pandemic because no one was hiring. There are now plans to bring it back.

“I think people coming in that are forced to apply in three different places, they come in and see what we have. Hopefully we can land some of them and get out of this bind,” said Nakashima.

Others say the extra $300 per week from the federal government is enticing a lot of people to choose stay out of work. Several states plan to stop participating in it and some business owners say Hawaii should do the same.

“It’s not good for the economy, it’s definitely not good for the community, it’s not good for Hawaii. So I think we need to set the right incentives to have people come and enjoy to come back to work,” said Koeppenkastrop.

The federal benefits are scheduled to expire in September, and there is no word yet from the State if it plans to opt out before then.

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