Over 1,000 PUA applicants left to be adjudicated
The CNMI Department of Labor reports that roughly over 1,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits still await adjudication.
In an interview with Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente last week, over 1,000 clients are still waiting for their PUA applications to be audited and adjudicated.
“The numbers have really been reduced as far as weekly benefits payments. [However] we still have over 1,000 clients who are waiting to have their applications audited, for example, due to an error in the first round of PUA. So we’re still really busy with PUA,” she said.
Benavente explained that there are still a handful of individuals waiting to be audited and adjudicated due to overpayments.
“When we first opened our wonderful portal, it was processing claims as long as you answered the questions right. So if you answered a question in a way that you were deemed eligible. So many of our clients receive a few benefits that were not eligible for. So they’ve had to either repay it back or set up a payment plan with DOL,” she said.
Although DOL closed the submission of PUA applications last October 2021, the deadline to disburse funds has been pushed to June 2023.
“Our deadline is actually June 2023. The application acceptance window ended in October 2021, but we still had a backlog at that time of about 4,000 applications that were not adjudicated. But now we’re down to 1,000. But to me 1,000 is still a big number because that’s 1,000 individuals still waiting for benefits they applied for last year. It’s very frustrating I understand,” Benavente said.
Although it may be frustrating, waiting for long overdue benefits, Benavente said benefits paid out every week have been steadily decreasing as PUA adjudicators work as fast as they can to get benefits paid out.
“We continue to process and I can see the numbers of benefits each week being paid out. Last week it was less than $800,000. I’m sure this week will be less than that. In the beginning we had 10 educators. Now we have over 60 and they’re typing as fast as they can, adding and subtracting, trying to figure out what was the overpayment or if there are missing documents. What documents do we need because you know, 2020 and 2021 were very tumultuous years. Businesses closed, documents were shipped away or locked away, so getting documents to verify a PUA applicant has been a challenge. Please bear with us,” the secretary stated.
To date, Benavente noted, about $400 million in PUA and FPUC benefits have been paid out which leaves the CNMI with roughly $300 million ready and available to those whose applications qualify.
“Almost close to $400 million have been dispersed. So we still have a balance of about $300 million, that’s a total of 700 million which was granted this year to the CNMI as far as pandemic unemployment assistance and federal pandemic unemployment compensation,” she said.