Spike in fraudulent PUA claims

PUA to receive more funds
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Posted on Oct 29 2020
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The CNMI Department of Labor has received hundreds of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications and weekly claims certifications that do not meet the filing requirements or eligibility for PUA benefits. 

Also, Finance Secretary David Atalig denied speculations that PUA funds have run out, saying they are actually awaiting more funds from the U.S. Department of Labor.

In a statement yesterday, DOL said it is investigating a number of fraudulent PUA filings where the claimant’s employment was not affected as a direct result of COVID-19; the claimant is not “able and available” to work; the claimant is not a U.S. citizen, non-national citizen, or qualified alien; the claimant quit their job or refused to work in order to continue to claim PUA benefits; and the claimant has returned to the workforce and earning “pre-pandemic” or customary wages—yet continues to file weekly certifications or under report income. 

In an interview with Atalig, he stated that the CNMI DOL had asked the U.S. Department of Labor for over $240 million that was expected to last through December. However, U.S. DOL only gave the CNMI 40% of the $240 million upfront. So far, the department has issued approximately $140 million of that, Atalig said.

He said that they asked USDOL for the additional funds but, before that happens, they will need to provide financial reports to U.S. DOL so that they know that the CNMI-DOL is allocating the funds according to the rules of the PUA and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

“We went ahead and processed recipient checks…in anticipation of the drawdown, which should be any day now. …Once that is done, those checks will be released by the Department of Labor,” said Atalig. “We’ve done our part, we just wait for U.S. Labor to give us the rest of the funding. We anticipate that very soon and hopefully, we will get those checks out to the community.”

As for alleged bounced PUA checks, Atalig stated that this is just plain rumor without any basis, adding that the CNMI Department of Finance won’t release checks if there are no funds.

“We’d rather hold checks or not even print them if there are no funds available,” said Atalig, adding that he is dispelling all other speculations going around about bounced checks.

Atalig disclosed that they are ready to print 3,000 more checks to Commonwealth recipients of PUA. The batch that they’ve worked on and cleared covers Sept. 22 as the latest pay date.

Last Oct. 20, CNMI-DOL has distributed up to $136 million worth of PUA and FPUC on all three islands, according to Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente. Benavente said that Saipan’s PUA distribution totaled over $108 million while the FPUC totaled over $16 million. On Rota, the PUA amount totaled $5.7 million and FPUC amounted to $2.3 million, while Tinian’s PUA totaled $2.4 million and FPUC totaled $2.5 million, she said.

Fraudulent claims

CNMI DOL reminds all claimants that their filings are submitted under penalty of perjury. Individuals who willfully conceal material facts or knowingly lie to obtain PUA to which they are not entitled will be required to repay all benefits fraudulently collected and may be federally prosecuted. 

Additionally, claimants will be held responsible for submitting uninformed, inaccurate, and incomplete information.  Claimants are responsible for reading the PUA & FPUC Benefits Rights Information Handbook in its entirety. The document can be found at www.marianaslabor.net under “Forms & Publications” or retrieved at the Department of Labor, PUA HQ building No. 1334 on Capital Hill.

“CNMI DOL plays a fundamental role in ensuring the integrity of the PUA/FPUC programs in the Marianas. Fraud and overpayment issues jeopardize the integrity of the program and availability of benefits for eligible or qualified individuals,” the department said in a statement.

Individuals are encouraged to contact CNMI DOL to report any perceived instance of wrongdoing or fraud pertaining at the following contacts:

· Fraud Tip Line: (670) 989-9095
· Benefit Payment Control Unit Office Numbers: (670) 322-9943/9944
· Benefit Payment Control Unit Email: bpc.cnmidol@gmail.com

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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