Congressional action is needed to extend federal unemployment assistance to foreign workers in the CNMI.
In a letter dated June 15, Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente informed Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) of the need to pass legislation to make the contract workers in the CNMI, also called CNMI-Only Transitional Workers, eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits.
The eligibility of CWs to receive both PUA and FPUC have been a point of discussions, according to the Labor secretary, who said the department and Gov. Ralph DLG Torres have been pushing to expand eligibility of the federal benefits to the transitional workers.
“However, considering the CARES Act is silent on any exceptions for CNMI-Only Transitional Workers, our federal counterparts have found no reading of the law that would create an exception in the territories from the ‘qualified aliens’ requirement,” said Benavente. “Accordingly, based on applicable law, eligibility of PUA and FPUC benefits are limited to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and qualified aliens.”
Benavente also informed the delegate of the applicable laws and guidance the CNMI Department of Labor has received from its federal counterpart, adding that “similar to the Disaster Unemployment Assistance, PUA and PPUC are federal public benefits…and that, based on the law, an alien who is not a qualified alien…is not eligible for any federal public benefit.”
She further stated that pursuant to law, the term “qualified alien” is an alien admitted for permanent residence under the Immigration and Nationality Act; an alien granted asylum; or a refugee admitted to the U.S.
A “qualified alien” also includes an alien paroled into the U.S. for at least one year; an alien whose deportation is being withheld or whose removal is being withheld; or an alien granted conditional entry.
Further, a “qualified alien” is an alien who is a Cuban or Haitian; or an alien who (or whose child or parent) has been battered or subject to extreme cruelty.
“While state agencies administering the PUA and FPUC benefits are charged with the responsibility to make determinations on eligibility, we must do so within the confines of applicable law,” Benavente said.
“In order to extend these federal benefits to CW-1, congressional action is necessary. If there is a way we can assist you, or information we can provide to you, in order to further support the passing of such legislation, please let me know,” she added.