Labor delivers to SNILD box of voided checks, box of overpayment receipts

DeLeon Guerrero hopes OPA will audit the documents
Copies of voided CNMI Treasury checks and one box full of overpayment receipts to the Saipan and Northern Islands

The CNMI Department of Labor delivered last week one box full of copies of voided CNMI Treasury checks and one box full of overpayment receipts to the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation’s Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee in relation to the committee’s oversight hearing on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

The Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation received a box of copies of voided CNMI Treasury checks and one box of overpayment receipts from the CNMI Department of Labor last week in relation to the Committee’s oversight hearing on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program.

Committee chair Sen. Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan) said yesterday that the two boxes will be made part of the SNILD JGO Committee’s records by first scanning them so to ensure than an electronic record of the documents are preserved and are readily available for audit.

The senator stated that more questions developed and an audit is necessary to qualify and validate the more than $20 million overpayment that was said to have been collected and returned to the federal grantor, U.S. Department of Labor.

She said she would expect the involvement of the Office of the Inspector General to carry out audits, investigations, other actions provided under the Coronavirus, Recovery, and Economic Security Act and American Rescue Plan Act.

DeLeon Guerrero also hopes the CNMI Office of the Public Auditor will also audit the documents.

The senator said the box of voided CNMI Treasury checks contains no ledger or validation sheet of each check and the overall total amount of checks voided. She said were these checks mailed out and the question of whether the CNMI Department of Finance has reconciled its checks that were voided is just one of their concerns.

DeLeon Guerrero said the box of overpayment receipts, on the other hand, shows the business units the funds were said to have been returned to. However, she said, there is no validation of the business units fund status reports that can quantify the total amounts of overpayments that subsequently reduced the cumulative expenditures of the respective business units as a result of the collected overpayments.

“In accounting, debits and credits must always balance. The two boxes, unfortunately, do not provide those financial validations,” DeLeon Guerrero pointed out.

Last month, Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente told the SNILD JGO Committee that to date, they have traced $31.1 million overpayments in PUA, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and Lost Wages, and collected $28 million from such overpayments.

With the PUA program expiring last Saturday, Benavente said that roughly over $230 million in federal funds have been disbursed for all three PUA stages.

Benavente said the U.S. Labor allocated roughly $700 million specifically for unemployment assistance in the CNMI. Of the $700 million, she said, only $230 million has been used so far.

With the submissions of claims and applications extended to October 2021, though, Labor expects to pay out thousands more of PUA claims.

Benavente said they received close to 40,000 PUA applications, including fraudulent ones, but only around 10,000 were deemed eligible.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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