The CNMI Department of Labor has received over $50 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Labor to fund the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programs for distribution in the CNMI.
According to CNMI Department of Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente, the department received $8 million for its FPUC program last week and approximately $42 million for PUA.
However, the additional $8 million is not intended to reinstate the FPUC program, but to pay off those who have yet to receive their FPUC benefits before the program expired back in July.
“The FPUC program ended in July, but we are still processing for those claimants who had portal issues before the July 31 deadline. The majority are weekly claims,” she said.
Benavente said majority of people who are waiting for their FPUC benefits are those who applied for weekly claims. Some, however, have yet to receive their lump sum, their first payment, which includes both weekly benefits and FPUC benefits.
Benavente said DOL also received an additional $42.5 million for the PUA program. The additional monies should fund all applicants up until the program’s expiration on Dec. 31, 2020. Benavente said that DOL will also be focusing on contacting individuals who have not been helped since the program was opened.
Also, starting Dec. 1, DOL will be reopened to the public for in-person appointments.
Sources told Saipan Tribune that after DOL mailed their PUA check to them, they were dismayed when their checks allegedly “bounced,” meaning there were no funds available to cash the check. Benavente said that what happened, though, is that PUA payments were kept on hold until the additional funding from USDOL came through.
“There were no bounced checks at all. We did hold PUA payments until we received additional funding last week—$42.5 million for PUA and $8 million for FPUC,” she said.
Benavente assured that they are processing those payments as fast as possible, adding that, with the additional funds, they want to be sure there are enough funds for PUA and FPUC. This comes after seeing a spike of claims submitted for October.
According to Benavente, they have seen fewer claims in September. “It seems like we had a low number of weekly claims submitted, about 5,000 for the entire month, an average of about 1,200 a week. But in October, I noticed that the number of claims jumped to 18,000 claims, which averages to about 4,500 claims in one week,” said Benavente.
Though there has been a larger number of claims in October, she stated that there has not been an increase in distribution. “We distributed $24 million to PUA accounts, and for the month of October, it dropped a little to $20 million for the entire month,” said Benavente.
She said that the community has to realize that the CNMI DOL has to report every number to the U.S. DOL. “We have to report to U.S. DOL the numbers, [of] how many people are applying each week, how much are we spending each week. It’s not just a matter of clicking yes to approve and then it goes to the PUA applicant. We have to make sure that that approval has been vetted carefully for fraudulent claims or accurate computation of earnings and all of that,” said Benavente.
As of September, the CNMI DOL has paid over $71 million in PUA and FPUC benefits. In October, the department distributed over $24 million in PUA benefits. The department has also processed over 18,000 PUA applications as of October.
Benavente said those who qualify for PUA can still submit applications and weekly claims and may do so until the end of December. (With Justine Nauta)