Fraud concerns pause new jobless benefits on Guam

Mylecia Aguigui, left, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance staff member with the Guam Department of Labor, assists a Mangilao resident with her PUA submission Thursday at the PUA satellite location in Yona. Broskey is one of more than 30,000 people who have filed for unemployment.

Photo by David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

The department attempts to release batch payments for cleared unemployment claims each Tuesday, "but there was too much suspicious activity from the batch meant for July 28," the department stated.

Labor is working to ensure the most recent batch of cleared claims, through July 8, is added to next week's batch.

A new release date will be announced shortly.

Most of the flagged fraudulent claims were traced from off island, Labor Director David Dell'Isola said in a radio interview on "The Ray Gibson Show" on Thursday morning.

"It's going to slow it down and we might have to run a new batch on Tuesday and miss a week just because of the fraud that seemed to slip through even with the countermeasures, the nine countermeasures, that we have in place," Dell'Isola said.

Hours later, Labor issued a statement that provided more information about the paused batch of payments.

The Office of the Inspector General has projected about $26 billion in fraudulent claims across the nation, Dell'Isola said.

"As much as possible, we are doubling our efforts to make sure our batches are as clean as possible and the money is getting out to our people and not to criminals," he said.

As of Thursday, the number of initial claims filed reached 36,825.

But the total number of Guam workers who have been laid off, furloughed or got work-hour cuts as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic was 35,187, based on the reporting of 2,000 Guam employers.

Rules are clear

"This is a federal program. Rules are clear and concrete. People must understand that we don't have the ability to make judgments. Either you qualify according to federal rules or you don't. We have no latitude for judgments. I also need to ensure we run one of the cleanest programs in the nation," Dell'Isola said in a statement.

Additional fraud filters have been added to the unemployment aid program software to help Guam continue to combat fraud.

3 appeals so far

Guam Labor is standing up an appeals division and overpayment division for PUA, on top of focusing on catching fraud.

On the radio show, Dell'Isola said there are only about three appeals he's aware of.

Payment method

For individuals who choose direct deposit but input account information incorrectly, the system will no longer allow them to update the wrong information, Labor said.

The system will also revert applicants that initially input wrong direct deposit information back to paper checks.

"This is not a Department of Labor issue or a Department of Administration decision. This is something that's coming from the banking industry," Dell'Isola said. "It is important that all claimants correctly input all information details including banking information, mailing addresses and residential addresses in the right places."

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