The CNMI Department of Labor says that thousands of laid-off and furloughed workers in both the CNMI’s private and public sector may not qualify to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance the second time around, based on the recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor.
In a letter to Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) dated Feb. 3, 2021, Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente informed him that recent guidance from USDOL confirmed PUA ineligibility for those working on reduced hours and furloughed or laid-off workers and despite their efforts, they may not be able to lobby for reconsideration alone.
“Unfortunately, it has been apparent that the USDOL’s ruling on the eligibility requirements concerning the second round of PUA will greatly impact furloughed employees and employees working under reduced hours in both the public and private sectors,” she said.
Benavente fears that because of the new guidance, thousands of laid off and furloughed workers in the private and public sectors of the Marianas may not receive the help they need.
“The effects of such a ruling will have an exacerbated effect in the CNMI. Considering the high amount of unemployment within the CNMI, our administration wants to work in good faith with you to address this before it turns into a humanitarian crisis,” she said.
Benavente said that USDOL confirmed that, in order for furloughed or laid-off individuals to qualify, their company must have completely shut down as a result of COVID-19, or they must fall under one of the COVID-19 related categories.
The COVID-19-related categories identified in the CARES Act include:
• The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or has COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a diagnosis;
• A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
• The individual is providing care for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19;
• A person over whom the individual has primary caregiver responsibility (like a child) cannot attend school because of COVID-19;
• The individual cannot reach their place of employment because of quarantine related to COVID-19;
• The individual cannot reach their place of employment because of a health professional’s advisement of self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
• The individual was scheduled to start employment and does not have job or cannot reach their job because of COVID-19;
• The individual has become the primary breadwinner in their household because the previous household breadwinner has died from COVID-19;
• The individual has quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19;
• The individual’s place of employment is closed because of COVID-19; or
• The individual meets subsequent criteria laid out by the Secretary of Labor.
Benavente said the reality is that in the CNMI, many businesses only shutdown during the peak of the pandemic.
“Our businesses and our CNMI government made sacrifices to stay afloat due to the pandemic in order to minimize the loss of jobs and ensure that people had a basic income to meet their basic needs,” she said.