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  • By Bea Cabrera

More federal aid underway for the unemployed in CNMI

San Jose Road, Saipan

Saipan-- More federal help is in the pipeline to assist employees who have lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, CNMI Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente said at a Zoom meeting with members of the Society For Human Resource Management held today.

The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, has given two unemployment programs in the CNMI to provide assistance to the unemployed. These are the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance that will run until December and the Federal Unemployment Compensation Program, which ended July 31.

“We spoke to the Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday with regard to President Trump’s executive memoranda for additional employees' assistance program called ‘Lost Wages Assistance.' The CNMI is going to apply for that program because it will help more people without employment assistance, if they qualify,” Benavente said.

She said the CNMI will apply for assistance in the amount between $29 million and $30 million.

"The deadline for application for this program is Sept. 3 and we were informed it takes only 10 days turnaround time for application approval, " Benavente said. "The ‘Lost Wages Assistance’ program is coordinated with U.S. Department of Labor and our local partners SHRM Team, the Hotel Association of the Northern Marianas Team, the business community because we all need to come together to implement this program.” Benavente added.

Reaching out to other federal partners, the CNMI DOL has requested assistance for foreign workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. “We have expressed this request and we have not heard any official word from them but we are looking forward to hearing from them in the next few weeks,” Benavente said.

“Lastly, we received an email from U.S. Department of Labor this morning saying that they are drawing out funds of about $50 million for the CNMI, so that we will have additional funding that will be drawn for PUA and FUCP,” Benavente added.

As of Aug. 18, over $50 million in PUA and FPUC payments have been released to eligible claimants.

CNMI DOL director of Employment Services Eugene Tebuteb said his office has also been dealing with application denials.

“Two types of issues cause the denial of a claimant's application. First is the non-monetary issue that deals with an individual’s eligibility. They must satisfy one of the Covid-19-related reasons why they lost their job or the hours reduced. Second is the monetary issue, that is, if they make more than the $494 threshold a week then that can be a cause for denial,” he said


“However, claimants are given the right to appeal in the form of a letter that we are working on to actually provide some claimants. On that letter, it will specify the directions to a “request for an appeal,’ A request for consideration will precede request for an appeal," Tebuteb added.

"The former involves us looking at the claim again and the individual to submit more documentation to support their cause for eligibility. We look at the claimant’s application a little more in depth to see if original determinations can be reversed,” he added.

SRHM president Pina Magofna said the organization has not taken polls as to how many SHRM members’ employees have applied and benefited from PUA.

“Employees register directly with PUA and don’t necessarily report to their Human Resource Department or employers if they have registered or have been awarded claims. I do know that nearly all the HR colleagues that I’ve spoken with have assisted some of their employees in registering and completing weekly certifications but rarely do the employees get back to us on the status of their claims,” she said.

“The additional funding for PUA coming from USDOL is great news. Secretary Benavente also mentioned that they are expecting funds that will benefit non-U.S. workers and I’m sure this will be welcome relief for the affected individuals,” she added.

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