The CNMI Department of Labor is warning the community about fraudulent claims concerning the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
With the PUA program now on its seventh week, the department has so far released $35 million in unemployment benefits to more than 3,000 claimants, and is targeting to do another disbursement of between $5 million and $10 million for about up to 1,500 claimants this week.
According to Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente, fraudulent claims are always a concern whenever there is a public program in the CNMI. The department, she added, has a Benefit Payment Control unit to respond to additional tasks, as required for the PUA program.
“Anything that is falsely misrepresented on an application will be considered fraudulent,” she explained, citing an applicant putting in an incorrect earnings amount as an example.
“There are some ways you can sort of red flag an application. If there is an applicant who has the same post office box number as five members of his family, that would put a red flag on that application online. That’s just one way,” she said.
The secretary noted that they have noticed that many households share the same post office boxes. “That’s become an issue on our portal, which we are going to address,” she added.
As for repercussions in committing fraud, Benavente said that the state can decide whether it will be a fine, sanction, or jail time, depending on the seriousness of the PUA applicant’s fraudulent claim.
“The CNMI is handling all its cases, as far as appeals hearings and any kind of fraudulent case. We will hear it firsthand. If we are required to, we will bring in the U.S. Department of Labor for assistance, but the state can actually decide on these particular fraudulent claims and then refer it to the U.S. Department of Labor for further action,” she said.
To report an applicant or application that is fraudulent and/or inaccurate, contact the Department of Labor’s fraud hotline at 989-9095.