Since the COVID-19 pandemic made its way into the CNMI in March 2020, the Department of Labor has been focusing on pushing out the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance/Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation funds but Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente assures that they are still hands-on with other programs under their department.
Speaking at the media briefing last Friday, Benavente said DOL is still “still moving on with its current programs.” This includes applying for grants for the Workforce Investment Act, employment service grants, and additional grants that will “help the people get back into the workforce retool to help them upgrade their skills.”
Benavente says through the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Training Administration, they are allowing the CNMI DOL to apply for employment services grants, which they are looking forward to getting these funds to help people get trained.
Currently, Benavente says DOL is working with the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services to train their cadets. DOL is also in partnership with the Northern Marianas College to help NMC’s summer Nursing Assistant Program, and also working with the Public School System’s Cooperative education program or Co-Op program.
“We’ve done well. Despite the challenges of the pandemic in 2020, we were able to reach out to our businesses in the CNMI and assist them with ensuring that their workplaces are safe from COVID-19,” said Benavente. “I just want to emphasize that DOL is not just about PUA and FPUC; DOL is also about putting our people in jobs for employment services.”
Other elements of DOL includes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which also has a program that is federally funded. DOL recently completed its review for program year 2020.
PUA/FPUC delay payment clarifications
According to Benavente, the No. 1 problem with delayed PUA/FPUC payments are claimant errors that happen when claimants submit incomplete claims information, or they report incorrect earnings, or they provide incorrect financial and banking information.
“Considerable amount of time is taken when our adjudicators have to contact the claimant and say, ‘Could you please correct this information,’ ‘Is this your correct account number,’ [or] ‘Are these check stubs accurate,” said Benavente.
Benavente said 10 months into the program, DOL has managed to collect and halt fraudulent claims and overpayment claims “for a small territory.”
“I’m super proud of this team that has worked so hard to keep this program going and get the benefits out to people who need it,” said Benavente.