Kilili: This is a bad decision
The CNMI’s foreign workers, called CW-1 workers, are not eligible for Public Unemployment Assistance, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) says is “a bad decision.”
According to Sablan’s digital newsletter released over the weekend, the U.S. Labor Department is standing firm that the CNMI’s foreign workforce is not eligible for PUA, and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program—both temporary unemployment assistance programs under the CARES Act of 2020.
In a letter to Sablan, U.S. Labor deputy assistant secretary Joe Wheeler stated that having a CW-1 status is not basis enough to make CW workers eligible for the unemployment compensation benefits.
According to Wheeler, PUA and FPUC both are paid entirely from federal funds, and, therefore, each is a “federal public benefit.”
U.S. Labor further explained that the eligibility of aliens, such as CW-1 workers, for federal public benefits, including PUA and FPUC, is governed by the Public Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.
Under PRWORA, “qualified aliens” include aliens who are lawfully admitted for permanent residence; been granted asylum; lawfully admitted refugee; paroled into the United States; or whose deportation is being withheld under federal laws.
It also include aliens who are granted conditional entry due to being the spouse or children of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence; Cuban or Haitian entrant as defined in federal law regarding refugees; or who are battered aliens meeting the requirements of 8 U.S.C. § 1641(c).
CW-1 workers, U.S. Labor explained, may be permitted to enter the CNMI provided certain conditions are met, and are to be treated as nonimmigrants, as described in the Immigration and Nationality Act. “Therefore, the CW-1 worker is not an alien ‘lawfully admitted for permanent residence,’ and unless the alien falls under another category of qualified aliens, they would not meet the definition of ‘qualified alien’ under PRWORA.”
“As a result, CW-1 workers are not eligible for…benefits under federally funded programs under the CARES Act on the basis of CW-1 status alone,” Wheeler added.
The delegate, in response to the decision, stated that it is unfortunate that the department is “choosing to ignore the PUA eligibility clauses in the CARES Act and is administering the program in a manner contrary to the very intent of the CARES Act,” which is to provide assistance to workers displaced by the pandemic.
“This is a bad decision. It creates a hardship for the unemployed workers; and it means the loss of millions of dollars to the Marianas economy and lost government tax revenues,” Sablan added.
In June, Sablan reached out to U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to share his concern about the CW-1 workers’ exclusion under the CARES Act program, citing humanitarian hardships that it could cause.