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60 ineligible PUA applicants return funds

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CNMI Department of Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente said DOL has identified 75 ineligible Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applicants who inadvertently received payments.

Sixty of them have returned the funds to CNMI DOL and the Department of Finance.

Benavente said once the funds are returned, individuals are removed from the fraud list.

For ineligible applicants who inadvertently received a PUA payment and spent a portion of it, she added, they can participate in a payment program.

In a statement, CNMI DOL said it collected a total of $108,522.46 in PUA and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation overpayments from ineligible CNMI-Only Transitional Workers (CW-1).

To date, 59 out of 75 identified individuals have returned PUA/FPUC benefit payments, the department stated.

“Claimants may call tel. 322-9943/9944 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to report fraud/overpayment. The [department’s Benefits Payment Control] Unit will compile the information and has proven that the claimant has been overpaid, a scheduled appointment will be made with the claimant to arrange a repayment plan.

“Under federal guidance set forth by the US Department of Labor CNMI DOL plays a fundamental role in ensuring the integrity of the PUA/FPUC programs in the Marianas. Any individual who receives benefits payments as a result of an error (intentional or unintentional) will be contacted by the department to return those payments.”

CNMI DOL also stated that over the last several months, the CNMI government has continued to work with non-profit organizations to provide humanitarian relief for workers on CW-1 permits, as well as residents affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The CNMI Government will continue to support non-profit work and humanitarian relief moving forward.

“The Office of the Governor is monitoring federal legislation in Washington, D.C., which would enact a second stimulus check for all taxpayers in the CNMI. Updates on this will be provided by the Office of the Governor and the Department of Finance.”

Working hard

Benavente said her department has been working very hard to process, and have processed over 7,000 initial PUA applications and weekly applications online and on paper.

She said CNMI DOL is working on 1,500 paper applications.

"We should be done with those applications by this week," she noted, adding that these paper applications will be approved and adjudicated.

It has been 60 days since CNMI DOL launched PUA, Benavente said, noting that a lot of things have changed since day one.

These include creating a waiting list to decrease the amount of people lining up outside the CNMI DOL office every day, noting that it is important to make sure everyone is kept safe and Covid-19 protocols are in place.

"In the beginning, there  were 700 people on the waiting list line, but now we're down to 200 names or 300 names a day, which means the line is getting shorter and people are getting their assistance a lot quicker," Benavente said.

The line is much shorter than it was on day one, she added, "which means that our applicants have been serviced via telephone or have been serviced in the front."

"All of the staff are outside in the front of the building from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. providing assistance to clients.”

As clients come in, all of their issues are resolved during the client's appointment, she said.

"The process has become much more streamlined and we have gotten more help from other government agencies, which was a blessing because of these paper applications that were sort of bogging down the system," she said.

In the last week alone, CNMI DOL issued up to $19 million to about 3,000 applicants, Benavente said.

"We're expecting to issue about the same amount in the next two weeks alone because of the paper applications being processed quicker… a little less on these paper applications actually.”

She  would also like to remind all businesses that the quarterly compliance documents are still due.

"It's very important that we keep careful data of our business, the pulse of our business community, so that we can keep justifying to our partners in the federal government that we do need these PUA and FPUC funds to continue," she said.

Benavente also announced that CNMI DOL will have a community outreach scheduled for 9 a.m. today, Wednesday, for the Society of Human Resources Management members, or SHRM, via Zoom.

Another community outreach will take place on Wednesday, Aug. 26, for the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, or HANMI, also via Zoom.

More than $50 million

In a statement, CNMI DOL stated that more than $50 million in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments had been disbursed to eligible and approved claimants, as of Aug. 18, 2020.

Based on its data, CNMI DOL said all of the claims that were processed for payouts were those that were complete and without issues.

“Claims that were submitted with supporting documentation (e.g., copy of ID, separation notices, reduction of hours) and without missing information were processed immediately if they demonstrated accurate eligibility (unemployment as a result of Covid-19 related reasons) and financial information (bank account and routing number).”

CNMI DOL said it “continues to work diligently and expeditiously to get unemployment benefits out for eligible applicants in the CNMI. The Torres-Palacios administration has shifted personnel from other Commonwealth departments and agencies to assist CNMI DOL with this important priority of getting assistance to eligible individuals.”

For  more information regarding the status of a PUA application, call 989-9081/9083/9089/9090/9093.  Inquiries can also be emailed to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

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