Guam asks USDOL to reconsider guidance for new PUA program
Guam officials are asking the U.S, Department of Labor to reconsider its new eligibility guidance for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs, which excluded workers with reduced hours from receiving additional benefits under the new law.
Although GDOL does not segregate data of claimants who are unemployed or underemployed, the impact is expected to be significant for many workers on Guam.
On Monday, Sen. Perez held a Guam Department of Labor informational hearing to provide status updates on the unemployment program authorized by Continued Assistance to Unemployed Workers Act of 2020 (Continued Assistance Act of 2020) that was signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020. The act extends PUA with a weekly benefit amount of up to $345 for an additional 11 weeks until March 14, 2020 and with a phase out period until April 5, 2020. The act also reauthorizes FPUC for an additional $300 weekly amount until March 14, 2020 with no phase out period. GDOL Director David Dell’Isola, who has been in communication with USDOL to reconsider the latest guidance, has recommended to those with reduced hours to withhold making claims, instead of risking having to repay the benefits. Should the benefits be reinstated for workers with reduced hours, claims can be backdated, if applicable, to Dec. 1, 2020. For many states with unemployment programs , coverage is provided for those with reduced hours. PUA is the stopgap measure for those left out of their state unemployment programs. Guam is unique in that PUA is the only unemployment assistance available to our people. Congressman Michael San Nicolas has written a letter to USDOL making the argument that PUA is meant to complement states’ unemployment insurance programs, and should be treated as entirely separate.
San Nicolas said the reduced-hours workers have been impacted by closures, and should continue to avail of PUA. “When we have executive orders that are reducing occupational capacities, you are in effect closing down portions of the business,” San Nicolas said. Governor Leon Guerrero and her team are also closely working with Congressman San Nicolas and USDOL advocating for clarified guidance that would reinstate the unemployment benefits for workers with reduced hours.
“This issue needs to be resolved quickly, as the program ends soon,” Perez said. “I am committed to advocating for the people in our community who’ve been left out of PUA and now find themselves in challenging situations due to the new guidelines outlined by the U.S. Department of Labor.”
Perez said she is submitting a letter to President Biden urging for assistance to reinstate unemployment assistance to workers with reduced hours.
Last week, the Guam Department of Labor said it has batched its first unemployment assistance payment of 2021. Pandemic displaced workers can expect $20.9 million in unemployment benefits to begin hitting accounts by the end of the week or early next.
Of that amount, $20.8 million comes from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, and $142,000 comes from the Lost Wages Assistance program.
This batch also includes new applications from the extended Covid relief package. Late last week the PUA application reopened on hireguam.com for qualified claimants to file a new application or continue an existing claim.
“I’m happy that this batch ran smoothly with the new system in place so that we can get our people paid. We’re ahead of most of the states by having the new policy implemented and running successfully,” Dell’Isola said.
“I want to thank the public for understanding the situation and not filing a claim yet if you fall into that category. The governor, the delegate and I have been communicating with the US Department of Labor, the Biden administration and other members of Congress to try and get this corrected. There are a lot of things happening right now to try and get people assistance as the new administration steps in. We have received good feedback and we remain as one Guam. We are making it our top priority to work together until we find a solution.”