The Department of Labor was set to meet with the Federal Emergency Management Agency early Tuesday morning to discuss the lost wages assistance program that would make available a supplemental $400 weekly assistance until December for Americans whose jobs or wages have been adversely affected by COVID-19.
At the media briefing on Tuesday, Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente said the meeting with FEMA was intended to explore ways on how the CNMI can take part in the program and help community members who are still out of work.
The program requires a 75%-25% matching, with the federal government providing $300 per person per month, as federal contribution to eligible claimants from the week of unemployment ending Aug. 1, 2020. The local government will then provide the remaining $100 per person per month, for a total $400 monthly payout until December.
The administration has a ballpark estimate of a $17 million to $25 million funding needed to match the federal assistance program.
“We’re looking at ways to supplement that hundred dollars and discussing that with our FEMA partners. As soon as we get confirmation and clarification from FEMA, we’ll be able to issue that notice to the public,” she said.
According to Finance Secretary David Atalig, with the CNMI expected to shoulder $100, and considering about 8,500 recipients, local funding needed will be at about $3.4 million a month for five months.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have funds. We’re trying to see and talk to FEMA and see if FEMA can give us the $300, and not require a match, or we’re hoping for a waiver of the match, so at least our people can get $300 for this,” Atalig added.
Incidentally, the U.S. Department of Labor assistant secretary John Pallasch, last Aug. 12, issued a letter to the State Workforce Agency acknowledging the CNMI’s lack of Unemployment Insurance Program needed for the federal assistance.
“We acknowledge that American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are eligible to participate in the LWA program, though they do not have an underlying UI program. Technical assistance will be provided separately to these territories regarding the state match,” he said.
The lost wages assistance program is made possible through an executive memorandum released by U.S. President Donald J. Trump last Aug. 8.