2 US lawmakers say CWs should qualify for PUA

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TWO members of the U.S. Congress have urged U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to work with the CNMI Department of Labor to ensure that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is also open to CNMI-Only Transitional Workers who were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In their June 30 joint letter to Scalia, U.S. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Massachusetts, and Senate Committee on Finance ranking member, Sen.  Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said U.S. Labor’s restrictive criteria contradict congressional intent when it passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act.

“The CARES Act was enacted amid an unprecedented national emergency and public health crisis caused by Covid-19, and the expanded unemployment benefits were created to provide a critical lifeline for millions of Americans throughout our country and the territories,” the U.S. lawmakers said.

The CARES Act, they added, explicitly defines “covered individual” for PUA without regard to immigration status, in keeping with standard unemployment compensation practice.

“Indeed, CW-1 workers are lawfully present and authorized to work in the Marianas and, as such, they should not be categorically disqualified for PUA. However, your department has thus far applied unnecessarily narrow and non-regular unemployment compensation restrictive criteria. This contradicts congressional intent and would deny CW-1 workers the basic economic support needed to avoid devastating consequences for them, their families, and the economy of CNMI. As a result, we urge you to work with CNMI’s Department of Labor to ensure PUA is open to CW-1 workers impacted by Covid-19,” the U.S. lawmakers said.

They wrote Scalia the joint letter to follow up on U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan’s June 12 letter expressing concern regarding the potential exclusion of workers with Commonwealth-only Transitional Worker or CW-1 status from eligibility for the PUA program and, in consequence, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.

“It is our understanding that the U.S. Department of Labor recently informed the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands  Department of Labor that CW-1 workers, who are about half the workforce of the CNMI, may be categorically disqualified from PUA,” Neal and Wyden told Scalia.

“Given the urgency of the situation, please respond to this letter as soon as possible, and let us know the steps the department is taking to ensure that these Marianas workers can access the unemployment benefits they need and are entitled to under federal law,” they added.

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