A group of over 100 individuals that have banded together in a Facebook group called CNMI PUA Group staged a protest yesterday at the Kilili Pavilion in Oleai to raise awareness about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance issues such as delays and non-issuance of benefits.
CNMI PUA Group Facebook page administrator Candy Feliciano said that roughly 150 came out throughout the day to participate in what was billed as their third PUA protest. Some protesters waved cardboard signs and someone was speaking over a microphone.
Feliciano said yesterday’s protest had the best turnout so far in terms of the number of participants. In addition, Rep. Ed Propst (D-Saipan), Edith Deleon Guerrero (D-Saipan), and U.S Delegate Gregorio “Kilili” C. Sablan (Ind-MP) stopped by to hear some of their concerns.
According to her, the purpose of the event was to spread awareness that there are still people who are waiting for their PUA.
“There are a lot who are still suffering and have not received even PUA 1 and now PUA 2 is ending and PUA 3 will be starting soon. Many have not received anything at all. There were also cases of people being approved then disapprove, so imagine what they’re going through. They received their approval and then later they received a letter that they were actually disapproved and must give back the money that they were given,” she said.
One of the protestors, a 60-year-old woman who asked that she not be namned, said she has been furloughed since March 2020. When the first PUA launched in 2020, the woman, a CW-1 worker who has been in the CNMI legally for 30 years, applied for assistance because everyone was urged to apply. After getting a pay date, she was informed that she was ineligible.
When PUA 2 came around, she was filled with hope again after it was announced that CWs were now eligible. But like the first PUA, PUA 2 came with its own disappointments, requiring her, and many others like her, to jump through hoops for assistance that, to this day, they haven’t received.
“Until now I haven’t received anything. I keep calling but they never answer. When I did get an answer once, it was just ‘be patient.’ Then, I got a call that I need more documents like a time sheets, even though I gave them check stubs. That call was almost a month ago,” she said.
The woman is asking for DOL to consider the hardships people like her, who have been patient, are facing. People who have lost their jobs for over a year now, who have family that they need to provide for, who have to choose between food or paying rent.
Another woman, a 51-year-old U.S. citizen named Maria Pasand, said PUA has caused her so much stress with the vague responses and slow process.
She said that they continuously tell her to be patient, “How can I be patient? I have an 11-year-old I need to provide for,” she said.
The woman, who also didn’t qualify for Rental Assistance, says she was banking on PUA to help her with her rent but to this day, she hasn’t received her PUA 2.
A 49-year-old bus driver said he was shocked to see that all the data inputted into his PUA portal just disappeared. “Two weeks ago, I logged into my portal and everything was gone. Prior to that, all my claims said ‘in progress,’” he said.
At first, he thought it was just a glitch because it had happened to his co-workers but a few days later, they got pay dates and his claims did not reappear.
“When I called Department of Labor, it was so hard to get through. When I finally got through, I was told ‘be patient’ but how can I when I have a car to pay,” he said.
He added that a number of his co-workers already received PUA 2 and he just wants transparency as to why many others, including himself, have yet to receive theirs.