Multiple federal unemployment programs end Sept. 4 and economists say that could trigger a wave of people looking for work.

Almost all the restaurants in Hawaii have at least one open position. Some locations are so short-handed that owners are closing dining rooms or cutting back business hours.

“It’s been a challenge,” said Thomas Jones, president of Gyotaku Japanese Restaurants.

Gyotaku’s three locations are between 10-15% below full staff.

“The demand from the customers to eat out is greater than the need for employees to all get back to work,” said Jones, who had to reduce the hours of Gyotaku’s three restaurant locations.

Next week, four federally funded programs to help those without jobs expire:

  • The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance covered gig workers and others not traditionally eligible for aid.
  • The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation extended benefits up to 53 weeks. The usual unemployment aid is 26 weeks.
  • The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation added an extra $300 per week.
  • And the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation added another $100 a week for “hybrid” workers.

In Hawaii, more than 15,315 people are still receiving PUA and/or MEUC funds and 25,411 are still receiving benefits from the PEUC program.

On September 4, nearly 22,000 will not be eligible to continue receiving benefits.

Sheryl Matsuoka, president of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, said the additional funds were needed for many because of closures.

But she said the situation has now changed.

“School started so a number of the parents that could not find a job because they’re at home because of online learning, now that school is back we’re hoping that they come back,” Matsuoka said.

Business owners have had to get creative in offering incentives to attract workers, including cash bonuses. Gyotaku is offering gift cards of up to $1,000 worth for customers who refer employees.

Vaccine mandates could be another factor.

Some companies have lost workers who don’t want to get the shot.

“Businesses who are thinking about mandating vaccines, one of the reasons (they’re) still thinking about it or not doing it was because of the shortage of workers,” said Sherry Menor-McNamara, of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

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