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CNMI DOL releases over $71 million in PUA and FPUC benefits

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(Office of the Governor) — As of Aug. 31, 2020, the CNMI Department of Labor had disbursed a total of $71,244,451.79 in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation to eligible claimants in the Commonwealth.

These payouts are the result of 9,016 total payouts with error-free PUA applications and weekly certifications. 

After 12-hour days responding to inquiries, meeting with PUA clients, and processing claims, the Department has made serious progress. Based on recent data, the Department received a total of 9,800 online applications and 2,044 papers applications, totaling 11,844 applications in the CNMI. Of the paper applications, the Department staff inputted more than 1,500 entries (initial applications, weekly applications, and supporting documents) into the online system.

The Covid-19 public health emergency has severely and negatively impacted the economy and the workforce nationwide. The CNMI was not immune to the financial devastation stemming from halted tourism, lost revenue, and reduced operations across the public and private sector.

On June 10, 2020, CNMI DOL received federal funding to begin implementation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs.

Contrary to claims made by certain elected officials, the CNMI received its federal funding for PUA two weeks after the Guam Department of Labor did.

The received funding only allowed for the hiring of ten PUA coordinators and two PUA supervisors, including staff for Tinian and Rota. With the assistance of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, the department was able to “borrow” reassigned staff from various government agencies for this critical priority.  With the additional helping hands, more PUA applications were being processed and adjudicated by CNMI DOL.

In addition to the lack of manpower, CNMI DOL had to address program ambiguities, technical issues, and regulatory delays — all while ensuring compliance with precautionary health measures against the spread of the Covid-19. 

However, understanding the urgency and need for assistance, CNMI DOL launched the new programs only seven days after receiving the necessary startup funds on June 10, 2020. Since launch, CNMI DOL conducted several community outreach events to educate the public about the employer verifications, the online application process, eligibility requirements, and frequently asked questions.

In an additional statement, CNMI DOL said:

“It is appalling to see our delegate to the U.S. Congress compare PUA claims on Guam to here in the CNMI, as Guam received their PUA funding and guidance first, while the CNMI had to wait for additional guidance before starting its program.

“While CNMI DOL has worked very hard to implement this program, our U.S. delegate has not done his duty to work with his colleagues in Congress to ensure eligibility for CW workers, a policy advocated by Governor Torres and Secretary of Labor Vicky Benavente.

“Instead, he provided false hope and chooses to point fingers at hardworking government employees within CNMI DOL who are working diligently to serve the CNMI within federal guidelines.

“In the meantime, the CNMI government has worked with nonprofit organizations to help families in need through the various food drives on island.

“CNMI DOL understands the importance and need for getting assistance to our workers. We recognize our role and the work that it is mandated to do. The CNMI Department of Labor remains committed to serving this community.”

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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