CNMI Department of Labor Secretary Vicky I. Benavente said due to some “hiccups” with the second round, the local DOL has not completely started the third round of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.

“There are quite a few PUA2 claimants that we want to clear first so that when we completely open the portal for PUA3, everyone gets pushed through without any delays. There are some hiccups with our claimants without the documentation or some who have gone through some overpayment hurdles that we’re trying to resolve so that they can go through for PUA3. So PUA3 is not yet completely started,” she said.

Benavente said all eligible PUA1 claimants have been paid out, while others may be going through the appeals process, or have been deemed ineligible or disqualified.

From July 1 to 13, $1.9 million in PUA benefits and $1.8 million in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits, totaling approximately $3.7 million, had been disbursed to roughly 555 eligible claimants, Benavente reported.

“We continue to adjudicate and push out benefits to those applicants who have completed their documentation,” she said.

As for weekly certification applications, the Labor chief said there has been a significant decrease in these submissions from 300 to 500 weekly claims to about 100 claims per week, inclusive of Tinian and Rota applications.

Documentations for these benefits are still being submitted, however, including updated employment verification forms, updated paycheck stubs, and a recent requirement of time sheets.

Benavente said CNMI DOL has been notified by the U.S. Department of Labor that CNMI DOL is responsible for preparing for the expiration of the PUA/FPUC program, which is due to end under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act on September 4, 2021.

“We are preparing for the expiration now,” she said.

On June 30, she said USDOL Employment and Training Administration notified CNMI DOL that it is now requiring a work search program for all PUA claimants in Hawaii, which, per federal regulations, extends to the U.S. Pacific territories.

Claimants will be required to maintain a log of all work search contacts consistent with Hawaii law from Aug. 1 to Sept. 4, 2021.

As per Hawaii Administrative Rule 12-5-35, “availability” states that “[a]n individual may be considered available for work for any week in which the individual has met the work search requirements of this section: (1) The individual shall make a minimum of three [3] work search contacts each week, unless otherwise provided in this subsection [and] (2) the individual shall maintain a record of all work search contacts and may be required to submit such record upon request by the department.”

Based on further review of Hawaii employment statutes, only full-time employees who have been deemed “partially unemployed” as a result of a reduction in work hours due to the pandemic are exempted from the work search requirement.

All other PUA recipients are required to satisfy the work search requirement.

Failure to do so will be a cause for denial of continued benefits.

Pertinent information regarding the new requirement will be promulgated using several mediums, such as, but not limited to, press releases, the CNMI DOL website, radio, or the hiremarianas.com internal messaging system to notify applicable PUA recipients.

The CNMI DOL has prepared a list of frequently asked questions and a work search log template that are available for download at www.marianaslabor.net under “Forms & Publications.”

For more information on the PUA program, email info@puamarianas.com or call 322-8870/71/72/73/74.

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