‘I will work to get other workers covered’

Posted on Jun 24 2020

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) has asked U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to become directly involved in the question of whether legal foreign workers in the CNMI can receive federal unemployment aid.

“It is important that everyone in the Marianas who lost work because of the coronavirus get help,” said Sablan in an interview with Saipan Tribune.

In a letter dated June 12, Sablan informed Scalia of his concern that in the absence of a Commonwealth unemployment insurance law, foreign workers that are lawfully present in the Marianas but are now laid off because of COVID-19 are excluded from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

“These workers, as taxpayers, have generally been eligible for the Economic Impact Payments, also provided by the CARES Act,” Sablan stated in the letter.

The delegate also informed the U.S. Labor secretary that the CNMI’s eligibility announcement two weeks ago did not include foreigners who are lawfully present and authorized to work in the Marianas, and who would currently be working except for one of the 10 criteria for eligibility specified in Section 2102 of the CARES Act.”

Sablan, however, has yet to receive a reply from the U.S. Labor secretary.

Last week, CNMI Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente reached out to Sablan in a letter dated June 15 that congressional action is needed to extend the PUI and the FPUC benefits to CWs.

In his interview with Saipan Tribune, Sablan said that the CARES Act made no distinction with respect to immigration status and, in fact, provides a blanket waiver that PUA is to be available to people who are “not eligible for regular compensation or extended benefits under state or federal law.”

“In the meantime, Marianas businesses that employ CW workers have applied and been approved for the Paycheck Protection Program, also set up by the CARES Act. PPP gives employers money to keep workers on payroll, so the workers will not even need unemployment assistance,” he said.

Over 4,000 Marianas businesses are already in the Paycheck Protection Program.

“It is important that everyone in the Marianas who lost work because of the coronavirus get help,” Sablan said. As unemployment assistance was being rolled out in the CNMI, the Delegate got the U.S Department of Labor to agree that furloughed Commonwealth government employees would be covered. “I will continue to work to get other workers covered. They need something to live on. And the federal money they receive can circulate in the Marianas economy and benefit all of us,” Sablan added.

Iva Maurin | Correspondent
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at iva_maurin@saipantribune.com
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