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US Labor says CWs not eligible for PUA

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CNMI-Only Transitional workers are not eligible for pandemic unemployment assistance, the U.S. Department of Labor told U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan.

In his letter to Kilili on July 29, U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Inter-government Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Wheeler said both PUA and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation “are paid entirely from federal funds, and therefore, each is a ‘federal public benefit’ as defined in 8 U.S.C. Section 1611(c).”

Wheeler said the eligibility of aliens, such as workers on CW-1 permits, for federal public benefits, including PUA and FPUC, is governed by the Public Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.   

He said Section 1611(a) of the U.S. law provides that, with specified exceptions, only “qualified aliens: are eligible to receive federal public benefits.”

He said the term “qualified alien,” under the law, includes  an alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence; an alien who has been granted asylum; a lawfully admitted refugee; an alien paroled into the U.S.; an alien whose deportation is being withheld under federal laws; an alien who is granted conditional entry due to being the spouse of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence; an alien who is a Cuban or Haitian entrant as defined in federal law regarding refugees; and an alien who is a battered immigrant spouse meeting the requirement of 8 U.S.C. Section 164 (c).

Wheeler said a worker on CW-1 permit may be permitted to enter the CNMI provided certain conditions are met, and such worker “shall be treated as nonimmigrant: described in Section 101 (a)(15) or Immigration and Nationality Act.

“Therefore, the CW-1 worker is not an alien ‘lawfully admitted for permanent residence,’ and unless the alien falls under another category of qualified aliens they would not meet the definition of ‘qualified alien’ under Public Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. As a result, CW-1 workers are not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits under federally funded programs under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 on the basis of CW-1 status alone,” Wheeler said.

In his e-newsletter, Kilili issued the following statement:

“Despite mine and the efforts of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D- Massachusetts, and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, the U.S. Department of Labor is standing firm, that CW-1 workers are not eligible for PUA. The department views PUA benefits as a ‘federal public benefit’ as defined in 8 U.S.C. § 1611(c). It argues that since CW-1 workers are not considered ‘qualified aliens’ under 8 U.S.C. § 1641, they would therefore not qualify for PUA.”

“However,” Kilili added, the department’s “interpretation of the law simply ignores the eligibility language in the CARES Act. By ignoring the PUA eligibility clauses of the CARES Act, the department is incorrectly administering the program, in a manner contrary to the very intent of the CARES Act. That intent is to provide assistance to workers who have been displaced by the coronavirus crisis. This is not the first time that a federal agency, responsible for implementing the laws Congress passes, interprets the law in a way that is directly at odds with the intention of Congress.”

Fraud list

In a separate statement on Sunday, CNMI DOL said because workers on CW-1 permits are not eligible for PUA and FPUC under the federally funded programs of the CARES Act, as stated by USDOL, “CW-1 workers who may have mistakenly or purposely identified themselves as qualified aliens or U.S. eligible are now on the fraud list for investigation and are being or will be asked to pay back the amount received or be sanctioned following the identified CNMI protocols.”

CNMI DOL said to “report a potential overpayment case to the Benefit Payment Control Unit at the Department of Labor, the contact telephone numbers are 322-9943 or 322-9944 or email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   After a thorough investigation and audit, the Benefit Payment Control Unit will process a Notice of Overpayment stating the total amount owed and the reason of determination.”

CNMI DOL said Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, Secretary of Labor Vicky Benavente, and other CNMI leaders have expressed their support for CW eligibility, “but unfortunately USDOL [has ruled] that CW workers are not eligible.”

Over the last several months, CNMI DOL added, “the CNMI government has continued to work with non-profit organizations to provide humanitarian relief for CW workers, as well as residents affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The CNMI government will continue to support non-profit work and humanitarian relief moving forward.”

It added, “The CNMI Department of Labor continues its work in expediting the adjudication and disbursement of PUA and FPUC claims for eligible applicants. The department thanks the community’s patience and will provide updates on the progress of these claims.”

 

 

 

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