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‘US congressional action needed to extend PUA eligibility to CWs’

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CNMI Department of Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente has written a letter to U.S. Congressman Gregorio Killi Camacho Sablan regarding congressional action in extending Pandemic Unemployment Assistance/Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation eligibility to CNMI-Only Transitional Workers, or CW-1.

“As you know, there has been a number of back and forth discussions regarding the eligibility of [CWs] for federal unemployment benefits, namely, [PUA/FPUC]. I understand that your congressional office negotiated to make these federal benefits available in the Commonwealth,” Benavente said.

She added, “I understand it is your position that the [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act] makes no distinction with respect to citizenship or immigration status and decisions of eligibility are in the hands of state agencies.”

Benavente noted that the federal law does not explicitly state that CWs are qualified for federal public benefits.

“Please note we have shared goals in serving this community and providing applicable benefits, to the extent possible. We understand that CW-1’s are not only contributing members of our infrastructure, but a significant and important component of the fragile economy. To that end, the CNMI Department of Labor, in conjunction with the CNMI governor, have pushed to expand eligibility of federal benefits to CW-1.

“However, considering the CARES Act is silent on any exceptions for [CW-1], our federal counterparts have found no reading of the law that would create an exception in the territories from the ‘qualified aliens’ requirement. Accordingly, based on applicable law, eligibility of PUA and FPUC benefits are limited to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and qualified aliens,” she added.

In closing, she said, “while state agencies administering the PUA and FPUC benefits are charged with the responsibility to make determinations on eligibility, we must do so within the confines of applicable law. In order to extend these federal benefits to CW-1, congressional action is necessary,” she said.

Qualified aliens include individuals lawfully admitted under the Immigration and Nationality Act, such as, but not limited to, refugees, asylum-seekers, and those of Cuban or Haitian descent.

 

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