Foreign workers in the CNMI who fall under the CW-1 immigration category—called CNMI-Only Transitional Workers—can now apply for Pandemic Unemployment assistance with the CNMI Department of Labor, thanks to the recent signing into law of a second COVID-19 relief bill.
Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente said it is great news that CW workers will be eligible for Round 2 of the PUA program because it was heartbreaking when they weren’t eligible the first time.
“Now we can finally help everyone who was affected by the pandemic. It’s an amazing thing. We are very fortunate that this was included this time around. It was heartbreaking to disqualify CWs when they’ve spent so many years working here and contributing to the economy, yet they were not eligible. Now, it’s a reason to be grateful that we can include them,” she said.
Benavente said, though, that there are still a few details that CNMI DOL needs verified by the U.S Department of Labor. As intended under the program, the PUA benefit is not a blanket gift to everyone and only applies to those whose jobs were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether they were terminated, furloughed, or had their work hours cut.
“It’s good news that they’re eligible but there are some things that still need to be verified by the USDOL and I’m sure they will still have to discuss this with their legal team. But for me it’s still great news,” Benavente said. “It’s going to help a lot of people who aren’t working. It’s going to help a lot of families struggling. We’re very fortunate that President [Donald] Trump signed the bill into law. We will open when we are ready.”
Some of the things that need verification include from what date CWs can start filing for, what documents will be needed, and whether CWs with expired visas or have been terminated will qualify for benefits.
Once CNMI DOL receives the guidelines from USDOL and is granted funding, the department will immediately start the process of reopening the online portal where people can apply for PUA, Benavente said.
“As soon as I find out from USDOL about the funding, we will make an announcement for reopening the portal. Although the bill has been signed, still we have to request for the grant from USDOL and that’s what we’re processing now,” she said.
Benavente said it is important that the CNMI has the funding ready once they open so that applicants don’t experience the same long wait times. “We want to make sure that the funding is available because we don’t want people to get upset again when they see a pay date and we tell them that they have to wait. Even though the portal says you are eligible, we still need to make sure we have the funding from USDOL,” she said.
At the moment, DOL has no set date of reopening the portal.
The package that Trump signed into law revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost of $300 as well as the Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It also extends eviction protections and adds a new rental assistance fund.
In addition, the bill also allocates funding for $600 stimulus checks.