As part of the social distancing policy, non-essential business on Guam remain close until April 13, leaving many employees underemployed. Photo by Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The disaster unemployment assistance related to job cuts and furloughs resulting from Covid-19 pandemic will be retroactive to Jan. 27 and will last for 39 weeks, according to Guam Labor Director Dave Dell’lsola.
Dell’lsola estimated about 2,400 displaced workers and 1,300 reduced hours. "This isn’t including the hotel industry,” he said.
However, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said the corresponding dollar amounts are currently not clear.
“There’s no definite number of how much they’ll be getting. [USDOL] is looking at the average nation's unemployment insurance benefits. There’s a clarification of whether other insurance benefits will apply to Guam. Once we establish those numbers and their programs, I understand by law it’s a weekly benefit for nine months,," Leon Guerrero said at her daily video conference.
Guerrero on Sunday signed an agreement with U.S. Department of Labor the Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act (the Act), or Public Law 116-136, which was enacted on March 28.
Dell’lsola said the initial guidance for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will be retroactive to he date when the person was furloughed.
"It’s not something negotiated or something we asked for,” he said. “It is 100 percent federally funded and covering the administrative cost too. We’re working on coming up with an estimate based on the unemployment numbers that we have from the rapid response emails."
Another issue was where will the money be coming from.
“I don’t think any money is free,” Leon Guerrero said. “It is federal money. It's not local money. The federal money is coming from tax dollars from the U.S. Our local monies aren't being used. We don’t have to do any matching in any of those I believe.”
Guam Economic Development Authority Deputy Administrator Ricky Hernandez explained the process of giving out the money.
“We're asking the federal government on a daily basis for guidance so we can release checks,” he said. “There are recovery rebates under way. We are working with Department of Rev and Tax. We're currently estimating the amount the government is to receive so we can get those checks out soon. As it relates to unemployment benefits, in terms of how those will be paid out, we’re waiting for guidance from the DOL,” Hernandez said.
The program will provide eligible workers weekly unemployment checks and jobless benefits for up to nine months.
In the CNMI, Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente estimated 2,000 to 3,000 individuals will be eligible to apply for the new PUA program as part of the Covid-19 response.
CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed an agreement on Sunday afternoon with the U.S. Department of Labor to implement the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for CNMI workers who were recently affected by the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which is provided under the recently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act, provides emergency unemployment assistance to workers who do not have unemployment insurance, which is not available within the U.S. territories.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our economy since February, and I directed our Department of Labor to conduct a study of how our businesses have been negatively impacted, as well as how we can take care of private sector workers. After hearing many concerns from our businesses and their employees, I’m pleased to announce that we are well on our way to implementing the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program to help our people in need,” Torres said.
“I thank President Trump and the Congress for providing this relief for America’s workers during this challenging time in our country. This is only the first step in the process, and Secretary Vicky Benavente, her staff, and I will work with USDOL to make sure we roll out this relief package for laid off employees within our community. Please be on the look-out for future announcements on this program soon,” he added.
Benavente said the agreement has been sent to USDOL immediately after the governor signed it. "We are looking forward to receiving additional guidance from USDOL-Employment and Training Administration within the next day or so. Application period will be announced shortly thereafter, and the public will be informed on how to apply,” Benavente said.