DOL addresses misinformation about PUA

Posted on Jun 26 2021


In response to misinformation circulated in the community regarding the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Open Government Act Requests for information related to PUA, the CNMI Department of Labor said that administration of the program has been thoroughly conducted under federal guidelines by the U.S. Department of Labor. 

“The CNMI Department of Labor has been striving for the proper administration of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program under the strict guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Labor,” said Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente. “And I am aware that certain people in our community and even our Legislature are attempting to politicize the proper processing of these benefits by slandering me in my official capacity as the secretary of Labor and making false statements against the governor and the administration.” 

“The governor and lieutenant governor have, from the very beginning, been supportive of the CNMI’s PUA program. Neither the governor and lieutenant governor have attempted to influence the process that would put the CNMI Department of Labor to go against the guidelines and requirements of the U.S. Department of Labor. They have not been involved in the determination of who receives benefits and, while both have expressed concern for those in need and urged our department to expedite the processing of eligible applicants, both have supported our determination to operate this program in a manner consistent with federal law,” Benavente added. 

To date, CNMI DOL has received 39,002 applications for PUA and has adjudicated and processed 36,493. A total of 2,509 applications are currently undergoing the process. A total of 26,241 applications were determined ineligible as they did not meet the requirements of the program as provided by the USDOL, or they were determined fraudulent. 

“We understand that these individuals are not going to be satisfied, but the eligibility rules we are obligated to follow are set by the USDOL, and we do not have the authority to dismiss these and, in fact, can be subject to severe repercussions if we fail to adequately administer the program according to these rules,” she said.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres acknowledged the challenges CNMI DOL has faced in administering the federal program in accordance with the USDOL guidelines. 

“I truly want to help those who are suffering from the loss of employment because of this pandemic. I am grateful that the CNMI DOL team has distributed aid to thousands of individuals in need but there are many more who are pleading for help. If it were up to me, I would wish to provide aid to anyone that seeks it, but there are requirements placed on these funds and these requirements must be met to operate this program according to the federal law. That is a serious and necessary consideration and while I will continue to support the faster and more efficient processing of claims and examining the process to identify areas we can work around to adjudicate claims in advance of the submission of particular less-essential information, I cannot pressure the hardworking staff at DOL to do anything that would jeopardize the integrity of the program and the CNMI’s compliance with federal law,” said Torres. 

“In addition to PUA, our administration is looking to assist our non-profit agencies in a big way through the ARPA, so that they can assist individuals who are not eligible for PUA or assistance through the Nutrition Assistance Program and other services. The rental and utilities assistance programs are also online in addition to our LIHEAP program under DCCA, and soon we will be rolling out our local CNMI stimulus to get resources directly into the hands of our residents. Ultimately, we want to get our tourism industry up and running again as quickly as it is safe to do, and we’re working with our large and small businesses and tour agents, as well as our South Korean government partners. This will get our people back to work and the economy back to the positive trajectory it was on before this pandemic. I am just as frustrated with the federal processing guidelines, but I am doing everything I can as governor to ensure that DOL works to process these benefits faster in accordance with federal law requirements.” (PR)

Press Release
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