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PUA eligibility is expanded

Posted on Mar 01 2021

More workers are now eligible to apply for PUA, or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration updated last Friday its requirements for eligibility for both PUA and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, this time adding three COVID-19 related reasons under which an individual may now self-certify as being eligible for PUA. They are:

1. Individuals who refuse to return to work that is unsafe or to accept an offer of new work that is unsafe

2. Certain individuals providing services to educational institutions or education service agencies, and

3. Individuals experiencing a reduction of hours or a temporary or permanent layoff.

Previous guidance from USDOL had denied an individual (furloughed, laid off, or on reduced hours) from claiming PUA benefits if his/her place of employment was still open. Thus, if an employee who was furloughed, laid off or on reduced work hours, he or she may only qualify if his place of employment was totally shutdown.

Under the new guidance, if an individual has been furloughed or laid off because the place of employment is partially closed (either permanently or temporarily) or the individual has experienced a reduction in hours, the individual may now self-certify eligibility.

CNMI Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente received an email early Friday morning, clarifying that those in the CNMI who are working on reduced hours or furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now eligible for the second round of PUA.

She welcomed the news and estimates that 3,000 more individuals will be able to avail of the program.

Benavente also confirmed that the CNMI has received $277 million for the next round of PUA/FPUC. The CNMI is expected to receive these funds in the next couple of days.

“Yesterday morning [Feb. 25], we received word from the USDOL that the CNMI was granted additional $277 million in PUA/FPUC funds. This is to assist with the continuation for Round 1 and also for the extension of PUA in the CNMI for the next 11 weeks,” said Benavente.

According to Bautista, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres had written acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Al Stewart that the previous guidance was “disheartening” for many CNMI residents who are relying on public benefits. He extended his appreciation to USDOL for making the much-needed change.

“This is great news for the CNMI, after we continued to advocate directly to USDOL for reconsideration of their guidance. Many of our residents have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the unprecedented economic situation. We are thankful that our federal partners have updated their guidance to ensure that this much-needed assistance can continue to help our affected families as we continue to do our part to bring back tourism and rebuild our economy,” said Torres.

Kilili thanks Biden administration

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) separately thanked the administration of President Joseph R. Biden for issuing the new guidance over the weekend, reversing a decision by the Trump administration to cut off CNMI government employees and some private sector workers from the federal unemployment aid

In his e-kilili newsletter, Sablan said the new guidance means that Marianas workers who had their hours reduced or were furloughed while their place of employment stayed open will now be able to collect PUS/FPUC.

The delegate disclosed that he wrote Biden, along with Guam Delegate Michael F.Q. San Nicolas and 11 other Democratic colleagues, the day after Biden’s inauguration, asking for a review of the Trump policy that they describe as “harmful.”

Sablan said the “Marianas expansion,” as the Congressional Research Service is referring to this new interpretation of a Section of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act allows any individual who previously filed a PUA/PFUC claim and was denied for any week to be given the opportunity to self-certify eligibility under the updated eligibility criteria and receive unemployment aid retroactively.

Sablan said according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 18,685 PUA and PFUC applications are still waiting to be processed by the Commonwealth as of Feb. 13.

He said these latest numbers are an increase from the 18,608 applications that were reported pending as of Dec. 12.

The delegate said U.S. Labor told the congressional office that as many as 18,002 applications, however, may be fraudulent.

According to Saipan Tribune archives, individuals who can apply for PUA are U.S. nationals and qualified aliens who reside and work in the CNMI who have had a week(s) of full or partial unemployment on or after Dec. 27, 2020, through March 13, 2021, as a result of COVID-19. This also includes foreign workers in the CNMI, called CWs. (With reports from Ferdie De La Torre)

Justine Nauta
Justine Nauta is Saipan Tribune's community and health reporter and has covered a wide range of news beats, including the Northern Marianas College and Commonwealth Health Care Corp. She's currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services at NMC.
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