The CNMI Department of Labor will automatically deny Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications submitted by individuals who classify as “contract workers”—a rule that presumably extends to the Commonwealth’s foreign contract workers, referred to as CW-1 workers.
In an interview with Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente, she said that individuals who applied for PUA and classify as “contract workers,” their application will be denied upon DOL’s review.
“We have a system where we check the status of the contract worker. What we do is check and see if they’re legally here and if they fall under any of the qualified alien status. If they don’t fall under any of those qualifying alien criteria, we would deem the application as denied,” she said.
Benavente added that since the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program is not included as a qualified alien and usually classify as a contract worker, then their applications will be denied
“CW is not included under the qualified alien. We will review the application and if they are classified as a contract worker, CW-1, then, yes, they will be denied,” she said.
When asked if there was any updates from the Office of Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), Benavente said there has been no new updates.
“No update at this time. I was informed by the office of Kilili that they did write to U.S. DOL and they’re really trying and we advocate for that,” she said.
Delay in PUA payments
Benavente said there is still a delay in the CNMI’s distribution of PUA payments because a DOL review found that majority of the applications were either incomplete or not filled out correctly.
“We are inputting over 5,000 applications, both online and through hard copy, and majority of these applications are incomplete or were filled out incorrectly. It’s understandable since we’re all new to this pandemic, so if an application is complete it would be a miracle,” she said.
Benvente cannot promise when the first payment will be out but she assures that once an application passes their system, that application will be sent directly to the Department of Finance and a payment will be processed and sent out within seven to 10 days.
“I don’t want to promise anything. I’m the last person to see the application, but my staff are all hard at work, typing in data and information in regards to each applicant and we have to be really careful because of the sensitivity of this program. We might risk not being able to get any more grant opportunities. Once we input an application and it is complete…it should be processed and a check should be ready to go to the bank in seven to 10 days after the application is approved,” she said.
What is PUA
The PUA program provides temporary benefits to individuals whose employment or self-employment has been lost or interrupted as a direct result of COVID-19. Direct result means loss of employment or self-employment because of a reason directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The PUA program, in general, provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits.
The U.S. Department of Labor oversees the PUA program and reimburses the CNMI Department of Labor for both the program administration and benefit payment costs.
What is FPUC
Individuals who receive at least one dollar ($1) of PUA benefits for a week, will also receive an additional $600 supplemental payment under the FPUC program described under section 2104 of the CARES Act. However, the time period that a claimant can receive the FPUC supplemental payment is more limited than the duration of the PUA payments. For the CNMI, FPUC is payable only for weeks of unemployment beginning on or after March 29, 2020. FPUC is not payable to any individual for any week of unemployment occurring after July 31, 2020.
Who can qualified
PUA and FPUC are available to citizens of the United States, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, the CNMI, Guam, Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, American Samoa, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and qualified aliens who reside and work in the CNMI who became unemployed, unable to work, or not available to work as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Individuals who are self-employed, those seeking part-time employment, or individuals who were about to start a job but could not begin work because of COVID-19 are also eligible for PUA and FPUC.