Labor finds $31.1M overpayment in PUA/FPUC; collects $28M


Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation Judiciary and Governmental Operations chair Sen. Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan) hugs Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente after Friday’s oversight hearing at the House of Representatives chamber on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE)

To date, the CNMI Department of Labor has traced $31.1 million overpayments in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and Lost Wages Assistance, and collected $28 million from such overpayments, according to Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente.

In her PowerPoint presentation before the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations’ oversight hearing Friday on PUA/PFUC, Benavente said the $28,027,428 that they have collected out of the $31,132,537 in overpayments will be returned to the PUA/PFUC programs.

Benavente disclosed that, as of last month, Labor’s Benefit Payment Control Unit, which conducts fraud investigations and audit, identified 4,010 overpayment cases. A total of 2,100 of these overpayment cases have been identified as out of the state or out of the CNMI, while 1,868 cases were within the Commonwealth, she said.

Benavente said 442 cases were fraudulent claims as the claimants don’t fall under the qualified aliens or qualified citizens category.

She said 1,400 cases have been identified as disqualified claims.

Benavente said that last July, they received about 30 applications a day, but now they’re up to almost 70 applicants per day.

She said the U.S. Department of Labor continues to monitor CNMI Labor. “We used to have almost daily briefings with the U.S. Department of Labor. Then we became I guess compliant and they were giving us weekly conference calls and now we’re up to monthly conference calls,” she said.

Benavente also showed the committee a copy of a letter from a U.S. DOL supervisor about the CNMI Labor’s compliance with implementation of the PUA and FPUC programs. The supervisor stated that the CNMI has been cooperative and timely in providing the U.S. DOL information and data regarding the PUA and PFUC programs.

Benavente said the letter shows that they have been following every single rule and guideline that has been issued to the CNMI as a state. “And this is the reason why U.S. DOL continues to provide funding for our PUA and FPUC programs. Because if we weren’t in compliance we would not be getting any grants or funding from the U.S. Department of Labor,” she pointed out.

She said the CNMI has receive a total of about $706 million for PUA and PFUC programs and that their cumulative expenditures is about $209 million.

Benavente said they were given $4.2 million for administrative costs for the PUA program and that $3.1 million has been expended to date.

She said they have to submit a weekly report to the U.S. DOL and tell them how many weeks, how many applicants, how many eligible applicants, and how many are pending, and how many were disqualified.

To date, Benavente said, they have received 39,086 applications since June 2020 and found eligible 10,285 applicants. She said there are 2,559 pending applicants and 26,242 claimants are disqualified. Benavente said half of the 39,086 applications were fraudulent claims.

The PUA period is from March 14, 2021 to Sept. 4 2021. Benavente, however, noted that they will be accepting PUA applications up to Oct. 4, 2021, after the U.S DOL gave them another 30 days to accept PUA applications.

“I understand that this is a very frustrating climate. We have more businesses trying to open and unable to because of the [bad economy). We don’t have our tourism industry 100% yet, but we are working on it,” she said.

On Tinian, from June to July 2021, there were 331 PUA applicants, 76 weekly certifications submitted, 120 submitted supporting documents, and 146 claimants asked to follow up on what’s going on with their PUA, Benavente said.

On Rota, she said there are 90 pending PUA applications, a few or 1.4% that were disqualified, 186 applications that were adjudicated, and 311 weekly certifications submitted from January to July 2021.

SNILD JGO Committee chair Sen. Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan) presided over the oversight hearing.

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
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