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Sen. Manglona: CNMI Labor needs more workers to process PUA applications

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SENATOR Paul A. Manglona is urging Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to give the CNMI Department of Labor the financial support and manpower it needs to expeditiously process Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation applications.

Last week, the senator said he met with CNMI Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente who told him that her department needs at least 50 more personnel to process the “thousands of unemployment applications received.”

He said she told him that she was able to take on 17 additional employees from other government agencies, but Labor still lacks the manpower necessary to expeditiously process the applications.

But Benavente also said that online applications are being processed at a faster rate because all the information is electronically available.

Applicants who submitted paper applications are at a disadvantage as their information would have to be manually fed into the system, which is time-consuming and laborious for an already overwhelmed department, Manglona was told.

“I commend the Department of Labor secretary and her staff for working long hours to get applications processed,” he added. “Aside from processing applications, the department must also report to the U.S. Department of Labor on workload activity, which includes the number of claims, the number of weeks claims, the number of subject employers and information about non-monetary determinations and appeals,” Manglona said.

“We must strive to comply with federal requirements so as not to jeopardize our ability to receive aid in the future. Therefore, it is crucial that we address this major understaffing issue,” he said adding that he already brought the matter to the attention of Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig.

Manglona also said that he was told by Benavente that there are limitations on how much of the federal funds can be used for personnel.

“Consequently, as we wait for authorization to use federal funds for additional personnel, it is incumbent upon us to assist the [CNMI] Department of Labor with the necessary personnel without any further delay,” Manglona told the governor.

He said “the shortcomings in the Commonwealth’s financial system undoubtedly affected the PUA distribution timeframe.”

“We must do what we can to help alleviate the hardships and sufferings of the several thousands of individuals affected by unemployment or reduced hours,” he added.

“We must absolutely step up our efforts and give this department our full attention. The longer our people go without any income, the deeper they sink into debt, leaving them in financial ruts that can take years to overcome.

“Governor, in the face of this unprecedented situation, I know you agree that with more than 8,000 government and private sector employees displaced, it is critical that we must do everything we can to get the money immediately into their hands.”

Manpower

During a press briefing on KKMP radio Tuesday, the governor said  he and Secretary Benavente will discuss another outreach to assist PUA/FPUC applicants.

U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, for his part, said, “The good news is that $50.1 million has been paid off as of July 30… and people are finally getting [their PUA] checks. The bad news is that $50 million is only the beginning, and there could be as much as $250 million more that the U.S. Congress appropriated and people are [still] waiting….”

He said he cannot provide exact numbers as to how many people have filed for assistance, how many have gotten help, how many are still waiting, because the Commonwealth has not yet reported this information to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“That’s what the U.S. Department of Labor told me last week,” he added.

He said he wishes that the funds can be disbursed faster and more efficiently.

“It is not easy to be out of work for four months with no income. This program, FPUC, [ended in] July… The House has passed the [Health Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions] Act, which extends this program to January of 2021. The [U.S.] administration and the Republican Senate will not agree [with the Act], so right now, there are negotiations between the House and the White House.

“At the same time, our president has issued an executive order extending a $400 a week unemployment compensation based on [Federal Emergency Management Agency] money, and some have questioned the [E.O.’s] legitimacy,” Kilili said, adding that the president has essentially created a whole new program.

Kilili said it is going to be difficult to implement this program in the CNMI, which has no local unemployment compensation law.

“The Commonwealth doesn’t have the millions that we’re going to need to match this [program]. So [if] the governor will…submit his intention to participate…where are we going to get the match[ing funds]?”

 

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