The CNMI Department of Labor is ready for the second round of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs, according to Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente yesterday.
“We will be opening soon,” she told the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government, Law and Federal Relations in response to the senators’ questions after her presentation on PUA and PFUC programs.
In a later interview, Benavente said the department is shooting for a week or two from this week to reopen the programs. She said there are new document requirements, identification verification, among others, and all information and instructions will be given out prior to the reopening.
“Everyone needs to have a valid ID, a valid driver’s ID or a valid passport,” she said.
Committee chair Sen. Karl King-Nabors (R-Tinian) called for the meeting to hear about the status of PUA and PFUC from the Department of Labor.
Benavente said they have requested for $185 million for this second round of the PUA/PFUC programs, compared to the $249 million they asked for in the first round.
“So $185 million for 11 weeks or about 26,000 applicants,” said Benavente, adding that they are hoping to hear from U.S. Labor if their request for $185 million is approved. “Which is why we can’t open it yet,” she said.
In the first round, CNMI DOL’s request for $240 million was approved, but they only received $192 million. “We haven’t received the full amount. There are conditions to be met. Data reports,” she said.
Benavente said PUA 1 is closed, but they still have a few being adjudicated. “So we are processing. It’s not to say that they’re disqualified just because the program is closed,” she said.
In response to Sen. Teresita A. Santos’ (Ind-Rota) concerns, Benavente said they responded to the senator in which they advised her that they are very concerned for any applicant who has not been adjudicated to date.
In Santos’ letter to Benavente, she stated that many people on Rota have yet to receive any PUA or PFUC payments since they first applied.
Santos said she continues to receive such disheartening news and that some complained too that they have been partially paid and are waiting for past payments.
Benavente said their record shows there were 700 applicants from Rota and 800 from Tinian and that there are 10 on Rota that have not been processed yet. On Tinian, that’s about five who have not been adjudicated yet. “We’re going to try and resolve these claimants,” she added. “So out of 800 and 700, it’s not a good number, but it’s not a bad number to have those that are not adjudicated to date,” she said.
Benavente said the main reason again is lack of documents, and maybe they are ineligible as far as requirements are concerned.
She said some of the applicants do not understand why they are not eligible and they go to the senator with their concern. “We always assist the claimants and see how we can help them process the applications quicker,” Benavente said.
In her presentation before the Senate, Benavente said that, as of Jan. 31, 2021, a total of 2,018 overpayment cases have been identified. These include misfiled earnings, ineligible claimants, customary wages, and out-of-state cases.
So far, a total of $14,994,019 has been collected from overpayment cases, Benavente said.
She said 1,238 cases have been identified as out of state/territory cases, or $12,334,966 in fraudulent claims that have been intercepted.
She said 312 cases have been identified as claimants that don’t fall under the “qualified alien” definition such as CW1s, EADs, H1Bs, H2Bs, and/or no legal working status.
She said 468 case have been identified as disqualified claims, and/or unclaimed earnings, and customary wages.