Editor’s Note: This letter was originally addressed to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres on May 21, 2020.
Dear Gov. Torres: This is to inquire about the status of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation for our displaced workers in the CNMI. I am sure we all have been inundated with calls from our constituents and are feeling the pressure from our people’s frustration on the delayed unemployment payments especially in the midst of our island lockdowns and fresh warnings from public health officials that the pandemic, which has claimed over 85,000 lives in the U.S., remains a major risk.
Based on information in the national media, the United States’ unprecedented fiscal response is encountering many problems that highlight the difficulty of getting money to the unemployed who need it to ride out the crisis. It has not been able to successfully deliver what it needs to despite the heroic efforts of many individuals and state agencies. The exact number of people still waiting nationally for their unemployment benefits cannot be accurately determined mainly because of the high volume of claims still flowing into overloaded systems.
As we all know, this is not good news for the CNMI. The shortcomings in the nation’s unemployment-insurance system will undoubtedly affect our local distribution timeframe. This is alarming. Aside from exacerbating our people’s cash shortages, the longer people go without any income, the deeper they sink into debt, leaving them in financial ruts that can take years to overcome.
I understand that you are doing everything you can in the face of an unprecedented situation. But in light of our nation’s shortcomings discussed above and reading that more than half of the applicants in the U.S. mainland are still waiting for their money, it is important that the CNMI stay ahead of the ball.
Therefore, I kindly ask that you provide us with an update on the status or progress of the implementation of PUA and FPUC for CNMI residents. Additionally, we appreciate any recommendations you may have for legislative action in assisting with the program’s implementation and execution so as to prevent further delays in the distribution of benefits.
Further, with more than 3,000 government employees furloughed and thousands more in the private sectors that are displaced, it is critical that we must do everything we can to get the money immediately in the hands of our unemployed. As a way to help our unemployed, we need to consider other local options such as a one-time CNMI stimulus check of a fixed amount, for instance $1500 per displaced worker, to be offset later once the individual starts receiving their weekly federal unemployment check. This can possibly be arranged and coordinated through Commonwealth Development Authority in consultation with the Department of Labor to ensure that stimulus recipients are eligible under the federal guidelines. This financial assistance bridge scheme will go a long way as it will be months before most of our people start receiving their weekly unemployment assistance.
The longer it takes for our people to see signs of the expected $900 a week in unemployment or explanations as to why they are not receiving it yet, more people will start questioning what the whole lockdown and quarantine exercise has been for, especially if they are unable to go back to work soon. The frustrating part according to many of our constituents is stressing over their finances when they are already stressing over their health and that of their families.
Again, as we all come together and work to find ways to help our people during these uncertain times, I am sure we can all agree that one of the greatest priority of our government is ensuring that all our displaced workers, both in government and private sectors, in all our islands, receive the immediate financial aid they are entitled to.
Paul A. Manglona (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Paul A. Manglona is a senator in the 21st CNMI Legislature.