THE CNMI Department of Labor is not “holding onto” federal funds, DOL Secretary Vicky I. Benavente said on Friday.

She said that every penny that CNMI DOL requests from the federal government for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs has to be properly justified in order for the Commonwealth to avail itself of such assistance.

Federal funds are placed in an account from which the U.S. territories are allowed to draw down full amounts after proper justification is provided to and approved by the federal government.

She reported that over 6,800 people in the CNMI are eligible for and have already received payments through these unemployment programs and the Lost Wages Assistance program.

Out of these estimated 6,800 eligible applicants, 1,000 were PUA/FPUC claimants, while 5,800 were for both PUA and LWA.

During the first two weeks of April, roughly $1.1 million was distributed to the 1,000 PUA/FPUC claimants, while nearly $4.8 million was distributed to the 5,800 PUA and LWA claimants.

Secretary Benavente also reported that CNMI DOL was able to intercept over 18,000 fraudulent claims amounting to approximately $337 million.

In March, the CNMI was approved for $262 million in the second round of PUA/FPUC.

The unemployment program provides temporary benefits to individuals whose employment or self-employment has been lost or interrupted as a direct result of Covid-19.

Through the Continued Assistance Act, or CAA, the program provides eligible applicants in the CNMI with 11 weeks of unemployment benefits starting on Dec. 27, 2020 to March 13, 2021.

Under the CAA, for weeks of unemployment beginning after December 26, 2020 and ending on or before March 14, 2021, an individual collecting PUA may collect a $300 FPUC payment per week.

Individuals may apply for PUA if they have had at least one week of full or partial unemployment on or after Dec. 27, 2020 through March 13, 2021 as a result of Covid-19.

The deadline to submit applications was March 15.

Individuals who filed a new PUA application on or after Jan. 31, 2021 — regardless of whether the claim was backdated — were required to provide documentation within 21 days of the application or the date the individual is directed to submit the documentation by CNMI DOL, whichever is later.

Individuals who applied for PUA before Jan. 31, 2021 and received a payment of PUA on or after Dec. 27, 2020 — regardless of which week ending date is being paid — were required to provide documentation substantiating employment or self-employment, or the planned commencement of employment or self-employment, within 90 days of the application or when directed to submit documentation by CNMI DOL, whichever is later.

To receive PUA, individuals must have submitted in-person or upload online the following:

(1) A government issued picture identification, such as a driver’s license, passport or alien registration card.

(2) Social Security number.

(3) If applicable, copies of the most recent federal income tax forms, check stubs, and other proof of earnings.

(4) If applicable, evidence of self-employment earnings, business license, including financial documents, such as 2017 Federal/CNMI income tax forms, profit and loss statement, and proof of business loss due to the disaster.

Individuals who have questions about the PUA/FPUC programs are encouraged to email info@puamarianas.com or call any of the following numbers between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, except on holidays.

Saipan: 322-8870/71/72/73/74/76/77/78/79/80 or 989-9190/92/93/94

Rota: 989-9001

Tinian: 989-9000 or 433-0889

Individuals who are determined eligible for PUA must file weekly claim certifications to demonstrate their continued eligibility either in person or online.

Continued eligibility is determined on a week-by-week basis. Applicants are encouraged to consult the “PUA/FPUC Benefits Rights Information Handbook” found on the CNMI Department of Labor’s website at: http://www.marianaslabor.net under “Forms and Publications” for details.

Individuals who willfully conceal material facts or knowingly make false statement(s) to obtain PUA to which they are not entitled will be required to repay all benefits fraudulently collected and may be subject to prosecution under 18 U.S.C. 1001.

Individuals are encouraged to call 989-9095 to report any perceived instances of wrongdoing or fraud pertaining to the PUA/FPUC programs.

Reporter

K-Andrea is a Gates Millennium Scholar who earned her bachelor of arts degree in political science from St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY. Since joining the MV team in Feb. 2020, she has been covering the political, environmental, and community beats.

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