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    Friday, July 20, 2018-2:45:58A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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NMI DOL seeks funding for workforce initiatives

THE CNMI Department of Labor is asking for an increase in its annual budget to fund critical workforce initiatives.

DOL officials headed by Secretary Vicky Benavente and the Director of Enforcement and Compliance Gil San Nicolas appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday morning to discuss the department’s budget.

For FY 2018, the department’s budget amounted to $900,000. For fiscal year 2019, which starts on Oct. 1, 2018, DOL is asking for $2.3 million while the governor has proposed $1.6 million.

Ways and Means Chairman Angel Demapan asked Benavente if DOL can “work” with a $1.6 million budget. She said they can.

Benavente said they are asking for a bigger budget in order to fund the Summer Youth Program and the establishment of a statistics bureau.

Federal funding for the Summer Youth Program stopped in 2016 and DOL  is now requesting $338,000 to revive it.

As for a  statistics bureau, Benavente said it will help the department to monitor the number of workers in the commonwealth.

Demapan noted that since the inception of the federal CW program,  CNMI DOL has had no part in the process of hiring or screening nonresident workers for the CNMI. “That’s [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] and Homeland Security’s jurisdiction now,” Demapan said.

“CNMI DOL has been “pretty much in the dark, and that’s why we’ve been asking that the authority given to the Guam DOL  be given to our DOL also so it can take part in the process of selecting and determining  workers based on our needs,” Demapan said.

“We need to balance the numbers in our workforce: how many engineers, nurses or laborers are needed…so we don’t have to do a lottery and we get workers on the basis of need.”

Secretary Benavente said there is a need for CNMI DOL to have its own data when tracking job classifications.

“Right now…we are dependent on data provided by the Departments of Commerce and Finance, and only a few businesses respond to our surveys. That’s why we need to have a system in place when monitoring employment records and the number of workers.”

Rep. Alice Igitol asked about the private sector’s compliance with the 30 percent local workforce requirement.

She said she has received  “lots of reports” that some companies are hiring more foreign nationals.

Labor Director of Enforcement and Compliance Gil San Nicolas said they have received similar reports and have gone to these companies to check. But he said they found  that the individuals believed to be “foreign nationals” were in fact U.S. citizens.

He added that if it’s an immigration issue, they have to step back because immigration is under federal jurisdiction.