The CNMI has no local funds available to help CW-1 workers, who were recently deemed ineligible to receive the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, both under the CARES Act federal funding.
At the radio briefing yesterday, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres stated that they had hoped for U.S. Congress to make the CNMI’s foreign workers eligible for the federal assistance program but that did not happen.
Unfortunately, Torres said, there is no local resources to help the foreign workforce since even the local government is also getting assistance from the federal government. “We’re getting assistance from federal program to accommodate the shortfall of our revenue here. In terms of local revenue, local resources, we don’t have any that’s available now. Tourism is our only industry here, and we’re still fighting to bring the first flight in,” he said.
“As much as I would like to offer something, I’m not able to because tourism is our only industry. We don’t have tourism here, and the other federal programs that we’ve been getting is under COVID-19 funds. They [CWs] do not qualify under the COVID-19 assistance, because it’s not approved by the U.S. Congress,” he added.
House minority leader Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan) is calling on his colleagues, as well as the Torres administration, to come together to help everyone who are ineligible for federal assistance.
“If the U.S. Department of Labor is not allowing guest workers to receive PUA, then my colleagues and I, along with Gov. Torres and Lt. Gov. [Arnold I.] Palacios, must work together and find a way to help them, along with all our constituents who are ineligible for PUA as well,” he said yesterday.
Propst proposes for the local government to issue disaster food stamps to CW-1 workers. Food stamps, however, are available only to U.S. citizens and a limited category of non-citizens.
“One of the hardest things about being a guest worker is that they don’t have family here to fall back on during hard times. So it is up to us as a community to be their family, to be the ones they can lean on during the hardest of times,” he added.
He also urged the government and business leaders to put their heads together and start developing temporary jobs that unemployed guest workers and locals can apply for. “Any job is better than no job,” he said.
Community groups and non-profit organizations, such as the Friends of CWs, have been pooling resources to help provide food packs for foreign workers. There is also a GoFundMe fundraiser, organized by Jae Carrico, to help CW-1 workers. Their goal is to reach $5,000.
“Not only are they out [of] income to send back home to families, a common reason for signing the two-year commitment to the island workforce in the first place, many of them have been furloughed for months, running out of food, even losing their shelters with no way to get to their home countries,” Carrico said.
“A group of us here on island see this injustice and have created a [Facebook] group to help reach out to CW workers and get them food water and toiletries, the very basics, while this government and their employers continue to ignore them,” Carrico said, adding that whatever will be collected will go toward food, water, and toiletries for the guest workers.
To donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-cw-workers-on-saipan-not-eligible-for-pua.
The PUA program, the maximum of which is at $345 a week, and the FPUC, which adds a supplemental $600 from March 29 to July 31, provide temporary benefits to those who have lost their jobs, or whose employment was interrupted as a direct result of COVID-19.
With no local funding, Torres advises foreign workers to reach out to U.S. Congress for assistance.
“I ask that they ask our U.S. Congress to have them included in the next batch, or next relief or amendment to the relief program because we don’t have local funding to assist CWs or even our local capacity here,” he said.
The governor signaled his willingness to work with Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) in order to address this issue of providing aid for CW-1 workers, saying his “doors are open” to Sablan.