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  • By Pacific island Times News Staff

Guam, CNMI prepping for pandemic unemployment aid program

The Guam and CNMI departments of labor continue their preparation to implement the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that will assist thousands of individuals whose jobs have been impacted by Covid-19.

Last week, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero signed the agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor as mandated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

On April 6, the Assistant Secretary of Labor, John Pallasch, and the Employment and Training Administration, issued its advisory which provides the details of the PUA Program’s operating, financial and reporting instructions.

“As we continue to work expeditiously and diligently toward the implementation of the PUA Program, the release of this advisory takes us one step closer to providing the economic relief the people of Guam are in dire need of due to the Covid-19,” Leon Guerrero said. “Due to the unprecedented times, I have assigned GDOL Director Dave Dell’Isola and Guam Economic Development Authority deputy administrator, Dr. Artemio 'Ricky' Hernandez to collaborate on this important program.”

The GDOL has continued to receive information related to the ongoing layoffs and furloughs directly from businesses totaling in the thousands. “We are working as quickly as possible as we understand the urgency of this to our people,” Dell’Isola said. “As we achieve milestones in this process, we will certainly let the public know to ensure everyone is kept abreast of the latest information.”

“We are ensuring that we establish an automated online process to the maximum extent possible due to social distancing requirements as well as an in-person process for those unable to apply online,” added Hernandez.

In preparation for those that may be eligible for the PUA Program, the GDOL recommends preparing the necessary documents and information ahead of the application submission process. Such documentation and information include ensuring individuals have a valid photo ID, passport, copies of the latest paycheck stubs, a Social Security number, and a Certification Letter from their employer.

Dell’Isola concluded, “Once we finalize the requirements of applicants, we will issue out additional guidance as to any additional documentation or information that may be needed. We thank the public for their patience as both the USDOL and the GDOL work to get this program up and running.”

On Saipan, CNMI Rep. Ralph DLG. Torres said his government "is working diligently through CNMI DOL to implement this program to provide relief for eligible private sector employees who have been laid off or terminated, as well as our government employees. We continue to work with the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) on ensuring assistance for our government employees during these unprecedented times."

CNMI DOL has been preparing the operational procedures to address the safety of the staff and the general public when the PUA application period opens.

“We are working from our homes by holding briefings and communicating with our federal counterparts to complete the PUA application and implement the PUA program in the CNMI,” said CNMI Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente.

Benavente added, “We are aware that more than 4,000 private sector individuals have been laid off or terminated from their jobs, nearly 100 businesses have closed down, and government employees are set to be furloughed. There is no way of knowing when the CNMI economy will return to normal, judging from the scale of the number of Covid-19 cases worldwide.”

CNMI DOL is recommending that individuals who are planning to apply for the PUA program should prepare their documents ahead of time. The documents include a Certification Letter from their employer, a valid ID with photo, passport, copies of the latest paycheck stubs, and Social Security number.

The Certification Letter must state the employee’s name, title, wages, and schedule of the regular working hours, and the number of reduced hours, before the layoff or termination.

As soon as the eligibility requirements, benefits, and other information applicable to the CNMI, is provided by the US Department of Labor, CNMI DOL will issue an announcement regarding the date, time, location, telephone numbers, and email addresses for the submission of a PUA application.

The CNMI DOL offices, like most of the government offices located on Capitol Hill, have been closed as part of the COVID-19 response. These offices will remain closed until further notice on the PUA application.

In Washington, D.C., Rep. Gregorio "Kilili" Sablan, CNMI's delegate to Congress, said he is still working to make sure that CW workers in the Marianas receive PUA assistance.

“CW workers and the businesses that employ them are essential to the Marianas economy,” Sablan said. “Making sure those workers have some means of support, even if their employing businesses have closed temporarily because of the coronavirus, will make it possible for the Marianas to recover more quickly, once the health crisis has passed.”

The CARES Act does not specifically include or exclude CW workers from eligibility for unemployment assistance. So, Sablan has been working in Washington to assure that the U.S. Department of Labor implements the law in a way that will include CW workers.

The CARES Act requires that an individual worker be able and available to work within the meaning of state unemployment compensation law in order to be eligible for assistance. But the Marianas does not have an unemployment compensation law.

CW workers and other non-U.S. citizen taxpayers are generally eligible for the “recovery rebate” of up to $1,200 per individual or $2,400 per joint filers. They must have resided in the Marianas for at least 31 days in 2020 and 183 days in the last three years.

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