In a span of six months—from June 17, 2020 to Dec. 17, 2020—the CNMI Department of Labor has received 36,898 claims through the HireMarianas.com portal.
Of the total amount received, 18,896 claims fall under the jurisdiction of the CNMI Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. The remaining 18,002 claims were identified as belonging to other U.S. states and territories and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the CNMI PUA program.
In its latest update on PUA and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation claims in the CNMI, the CNMI DOL said that, as of Dec. 15, 2020, more than 13,801 (or 73% of CNMI claims) eligible claimants have either received benefits or are in the process of receiving benefits. The remaining 5,095 claims have been flagged for further investigation.
The actual disbursement of direct deposit or check payments occur after a payment cycle process is executed. The payment cycle process normally begins every Tuesday of each week. The first cycle occurred on July 28, 2020, with the last one occurring as recently as last Dec. 15, 2020. To date, a total of 20 payment cycles have been processed.
As of the date of this release, barring any non-payments due to claims errors, the CNMI DOL and Department of Finance is up to date with all paper check and direct deposit disbursements and are currently working on the Dec. 15, 2020, payment cycle.
The CNMI DOF also confirmed that over $170 million in PUA and FPUC benefits have been disbursed to date.
Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente stated that the CNMI DOL will continue to process claims payments for eligible claimants and work on correcting deficiencies for potentially eligible applicants.
“The disbursement of funds will definitely assist many families in the CNMI, but the work has not stopped. We must continue to manage the PUA program in strict adherence to federal statutes and regulations to prevent waste and fraud while simultaneously ensuring that every applicant has the opportunity to obtain benefits, should they qualify,” said Benavente.
“Recent talks of the extension of the PUA program through the current COVID-19 relief legislation in the U.S. Congress are also being closely monitored by the CNMI Office of the Governor and CNMI DOL. As soon as we receive word regarding the extension of the PUA program from the U.S. Department of Labor, we will continue to put in the necessary administrative work to ensure that this program continues so that every eligible claimant receives continued assistance.”
Claims with errors
“Everyone can apply for PUA but not everyone will qualify. This was the mantra at the onset of the PUA program in the Marianas and it still holds true today. We are finding claims that do not meet eligibility requirements and conditions of the program but we still have an obligation to make certain that our eligibility determinations are accurate,” said Benavente.
As a result of claims issues or errors, some claims have not been paid out. The department is keenly aware of this and has sought ways to expedite the eligibility determinations of those claims.
Common errors with PUA claims that have delayed disbursement or led to denials include but are not limited to:
- Not meeting eligibility requirements
- CWs and non-qualified aliens are not eligible for PUA, despite the request of the CNMI government (This may change due to pending legislation by the U.S. Congress, which is being closely monitored by the CNMI government.)
- Claimants not demonstrating that their unemployment was a result of the pandemic (e.g., claimants that were terminated due to excessive absenteeism or poor performance)
- Claimants with reduced hours disclosing that they are not unemployed
- Failing to report back to work when recalled
- Receiving sick leave
- Fraudulent misrepresentation
- Filed incomplete information (e.g., filed an initial application without submitting weekly claims certifications)
- Miscalculated earnings computation
- Wrong banking information
- Providing incorrect mailing addresses for check mail outs
- Full legal name not being properly disclosed
- Claiming for PUA benefits while earning customary (pre-pandemic) wages
- Not properly disclosing weekly earnings for the week
- Providing incorrect banking information (Routing Number, Account Number, Account Type)
- Claimants incorrectly listing themselves as the employer contact instead of official contacts (i.e., Human Resources (HR) personnel).
Individuals who file a PUA claim will receive information about their benefit rights and responsibilities. To remain eligible for PUA, individuals must continue to meet all eligibility requirements and conditions found in the PUA/FPUC Benefits Rights Information Handbook. Continued eligibility is determined on a week-by-week basis. A copy of the BRI can be obtained at www.marianaslabor.net under “Forms & Publications.”
CNMI DOL continues to make itself available for inquiries and assistance with claims that need assistance. Eligible PUA claimants who need assistance are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 322-8870/8871/8872/8873/8874/8876/8877/8878/8879/8880 or 989-9190/9192/9193/9194. (PR)