Secretary says requests taking away Labor’s time to process PUA, PFUC benefits
It’s not just Sen. Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero who has asked for documents relating to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits. In fact, her request is on top of similar requests made by many representatives and such requests are taking away from the Department of Labor time to process these benefits, according to Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente on Friday.
Asked during a radio news briefing about DeLeon Guerrero’s Open Government Act requests to produce documents, Benavente said they are mandated to keep PUA and PFUC information confidential.
“If and when we do receive a document that says, ‘I hereby authorize senator so and so, and representative so and so, and to act on my behalf, then we try to provide information to the authorized representative,” she said.
Last Thursday, DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan) submitted an OGA request to Benavente, asking her to submit within 10 calendar days all internal allotment advices related to PUA and PFUC funding.
The senator also requested, among other documents, the de-obligation documentation of the $14.9 million overpayments collected and returned to the federal grantor, as stated during Labor’s appearance in the Senate chambers last Feb. 3.
DeLeon Guerrero said she has been receiving a lot of messages from applicants that are still waiting for their application/benefits status.
At Friday’s press briefing, Benavente said they have received requests, for example, from Sen. DeLeon Guerrero, Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan), and Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan). Benavente said they are seeing an increase in the number of these requests and these are taking their time away from doing the normal run of the PUA application process.
“Sometimes it’s a bit frustrating, but we’re doing our best trying to help everyone,” she said.
She reiterated that they received 39,000 applications and they are adjudicating 10,000 that are deemed eligible.
Oof the 39,000 applicants, Benavente said 26,000 were disqualified because of the fact that they were not eligible for the COVID-19 reasons that are listed in the benefits rights information handbook.
As of that day (Friday), she said, they have about 2,509 PUA applicants who are pending for review and adjudication.
“So 2,509 is our goal to finish within the next couple of weeks,” she said.
Benavente said they have intercepted $24 million worth of fraudulent claims and that many are from outside the CNMI. “We have stopped that from going out and being wasted so that this program can benefit the people who are actually eligible for these benefits,” she said.
The Labor secretary said the procedure takes time as they review every single document, address, and bank account. “There’s so many documents and there’s a misconception, I think, with some folks that all it takes is a click of a computer,” she said.
Benavente noted that the meet with the U.S. Labor Department every week and it has reviewed their implementation procedures, plans, and standing operating procedures.