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717 teachers’ PUA applications are on hold, teacher rep says

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THE Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications of 717 Public School System employees will remain on hold until PSS “clears the issue,” with its teachers’ summer pay, Board of Education teacher representative Paul Miura said during the BOE meeting on Tuesday.

“I keep getting messages [from PSS employees] that they are being told by…[the CNMI Department of Labor] that their applications will not be processed for payment until PSS clears some unresolved issues with [CNMI] DOL,” he said. “Obviously, there is a huge miscommunication that is happening and I am seeing all of that in the group chats [among teachers].”

Miura said the situation is causing a lot of uncertainty and concern among the teachers who are applying for unemployment assistance.

He is asking PSS officials to “clear the issue” with the CNMI DOL about the teachers’ summer pay and the months that were not part of summer payouts because of the early closure of schools.

“If we can just clarify this matter for our employees so that they don’t continuously have to go [to CNMI] DOL and be told that their applications are on hold,” Miura said.

In June, PSS released $5 million for the summer pay of its 190-day contract employees.  The funds came from the federal CARES Act.

In releasing the summer pay, PSS informed the teachers that “it may have an impact on their eligibility to apply for PUA.”

BOE member Philip Mendiola-Long asked Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada to take “decisive action” in helping the PSS employees.

“If [CNMI] DOL is saying they will not issue unemployment assistance to our employees, then I would ask the [commissioner] to provide answers on ‘why’ and to be clear as to ‘why’ based on some sort of rationale…there’s no reason why our teachers can’t be paid.”

Mendiola-Long recalled that PSS legal counsel Tiberius Mocanu had shared some legal analysis with CNMI DOL indicating that in many states, receiving summer pay does not make an applicant ineligible for unemployment assistance.

Mendiola-Long suggested that Mocanu work with the commissioner in drafting legislation that will specifically state that summer pay is not wage or income.

“I’m sure the Legislature will expedite passing such a bill,” Mendiola-Long said. “I am confident that the Legislature would support corrective language.”

If it could not be done legislatively, Mendiola-Long recommends an executive order.

PSS human resources director Lucretia Borja said they entered the names of  the 717 furloughed employees into the CNMI DOL portal.

She told the board that CNMI DOL has not received an answer from U.S. Department of Labor concerning the PUA eligibility of employees who received summer pay.

Asked for comment, CNMI Secretary of Labor Vicky I. Benavente said:

“The Department of Labor is reviewing and processing more than 7,000 PUA applications received since the launch date on June 17, 2020.  Whether an applicant is a PSS teacher or a PSS maintenance staff, that applicant will receive PUA/FPUC [Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation] benefits provided they are deemed qualified by DOL. 

“We've discussed the concerns from the CNMI PSS with the U.S. Department of Labor, and they have reiterated that it is up to the state, in this case the CNMI, to decide on the eligibility of PUA applicants.  We will continue to assist all PUA applicants that have submitted their complete applications and at the same time, ensure that the integrity of the PUA program is protected as mandated in the agreement between the CNMI Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Labor.”

 

 

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