The CNMI Department of Labor hopes to hear from the U.S Department of Labor as soon as next week on the guidelines for reopening the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente said her department has already reached out to USDOL regarding guidelines to reopen the program, soon after President Donald Trump signed the COVID-19 relief bill that would provide an additional 11 weeks of unemployment assistance to those whose livelihoods were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Benavente said they have yet to receive a response from USDOL since it is the holidays season, but she expects to get a response as early as next week.
Benavente said once they hear back from USDOL regarding the guidelines, the department will start the process of reopening the portal.
However, Benavente said there is still no set date when applicants can start applying for PUA again because CNMI DOL still needs to apply for the PUA grant, aside from receiving guidelines.
Fortunately, Benavente said, she expects reopening the PUA program to be easier and faster this time around compared to the first instance since they are now familiar with the system.
In addition, Benavente said, with PUA Round 2, the application process will be solely online because they’ve learned from the first round that having both manual and online applications caused a lot of delays.
Benavente said it is great news for the CNMI that Trump signed the bill into law because not only will CNMI locals continue to receive benefits to help them weather the pandemic, but workers under the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program and other contract workers are now also included in the bill.
“It’s really amazing for the CNMI. It’s going to help a lot of people who are still unemployed. It’s going to help a lot of families who are still struggling. We are very fortunate that President Trump signed the bill. We’re just waiting for instructions from USDOL and we will announce the reopening of the portal when we are ready,” she said.
The first round of PUA benefits expired last Dec. 26, and although many have yet to receive their benefits from the first go around, Benavente said over 80% of eligible applicants have already received their benefits.