The Department of Finance is set to make over 5,000 direct deposits for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments this week.
According to Finance Secretary David Atalig during a radio news briefing last Friday, the CNMI should expect the PUA payments totaling $15 million—the third batch so far—throughout this week.
Atalig explained that the first batch of direct deposits, which hit bank accounts last Friday, totaled around 300. The second batch, about 1,000, was distributed last Saturday before the bank’s 11am cutoff. This batch should expect payments to hit their accounts today.
The next batch of payments, which is the largest with over 5,000 recipients, will be disbursed throughout the week.
“The first small batch was a real clean 300 recipients. Those numbers [will] increase. The next batch [last Saturday’s] would be about 1,000, [this] week would be the bigger batch, which holds over 5,000 recipients. We have a team here at the Department of Finance that’s working hard to get this information into the system and to bank accounts,” he said.
Atalig said he drew up $15 million for PUA payment disbursements this week. The CNMI reportedly has $70 million readily available for disbursement under the PUA and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs.
PUA recipients should expect payments for the weeks they claimed but Atalig said the big bulk of the benefits will be the FPUC payments, which is $600 a week. FPUC payments will be a retroactive check that is calculated from when one was “separated” from their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic up to July 31.
He said the assistance is “starting from the date you were separated, whether it’s a reduction in work hours, both private and public, or their businesses closed down. It’s back from when you lost your revenue stream or when your furlough [occurred] or when you were terminated due to close of business as a result of COVID-19,” he said.
Atalig said he encourages everyone who had their hours reduced, were furloughed, or basically lost their main source of revenue due to the pandemic to try and apply. He also continues to encourage CNMI-Only Transitional workers, or CW-1, to try and apply.
“I encourage you all to apply so we can have economic activity on our islands. We desperately need that for our revenues,” he said.
DOL was able to work through their challenges with their online portal, resolving all issues last Friday, resulting in PUA application finally getting approved and payments sent out.
“What we’re finding is that [for] a lot of these applications, their documentation is not complete,” Atalig said. He recounts that the ones working on the applications are telling him that only about 20% are coming in clean. “Right off the bat. Especially on the online portal. They’ve had issues with their online portal but all that have been cleared. In the meantime, we are doing our best to get these checks out to our people. They really need this funding to help them with their lives and coping with the situation we’re in,” he said.