Labor chief: Help us help you

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CNMI Department of Labor Secretary Vicky I. Benavente is reminding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation applicants to provide the correct information when submitting their applications.

If there is incorrect information in their applications, “disbursement will not occur,” she said during a press briefing on KKMP radio, Friday. “But we will contact [the applicants] and correct the incorrect information, such as bank accounts, routing numbers, even addresses.”

She added, “We’ll get these disbursements out to the applicants as soon as we can confirm [that] the information on their applications is correct, and all of the issues have been resolved.”

CNMI DOL “can’t help them  unless they help us figure out what’s the issue with their applications,” Benavente said.

She added that her department is trying to respond and assist by telephone and in-person.

However, it has been a challenge to respond to PUA applicants through the phone, she said.

CNMI DOL has a total of 70 staff members of whom 45 are working on PUA applications, reviewing, vetting, and adjudicating applications, Benavente said.

She said call logs have been reduced from several hundred calls to less than a hundred calls a day as many applicants are now going online to avail themselves of the CNMI PUA portal.

About $71 million has been disbursed to the community for PUA and FPUC benefits, Benavente said, adding that there is still a balance of over $40 million.

“We anticipate the PUA applications to continue through the end of the year,” Benavente said.

She noted that her department’s counterpart on Guam had shut down because of the rise in Covid-19 cases there.

“They are reporting that they’re almost like going back to square one and having to process these claims online, then resolve many of their payments issues by telephone and not by in-person,” she said.

As for CNMI DOL, she said it continues to communicate with federal partners, and continues to receive training for several aspects of the PUA program.

The PUA program  has to be protected from fraudulent claims while resolving issues claimants may have with their applications, she said.

On Friday, Secretary Benavente said she met with the U.S. Department of Labor to discuss appeals.

“Some PUA applicants have filed appeals to indicate that they don’t agree with the decision of the Department of Labor in the CNMI, and so we’re going through discussion, review, and training of how to handle appeals,” she said.

After a thorough investigation, she said the department will decide  regarding an appeal.

If the claimant still does not agree with the decision, he or she can decide to file a second level of appeal.

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