US House leaders ask governor: Where are the unemployment checks?

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(Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) —  Three months after passage of the CARES Act, workers laid off in the Marianas because of the coronavirus still have not received their unemployment checks — $945 per week for most. And leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives want to know why.

House Education and Labor Committee Chair Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Va., Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva, D-Az., and Vice Chair for Insular Affairs Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-MP, wrote U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia last week, asking for an explanation for the long delay. The U.S. Labor Department has been guiding the Marianas government’s implementation of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs set up in the CARES Act in March.

“Individuals residing in the Marianas, by and large, do not have the financial resources to live without income for months,” the three legislators told Scalia.

“We understand that the Commonwealth’s lack of an existing unemployment insurance system required the construction of the PUA application and the mechanism for distribution from the ground up.

“There must be a greater sense of urgency on the part of your Department and the Commonwealth government to disburse the PUA payments.”

In Guam, which also does not have an existing unemployment insurance system to protect workers laid off through no fault of their own, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero announced the first payments, worth $35 million, went out weeks ago.

The House Ways and Means Committee last week, also, issued guidance on the total weekly benefit that most laid-off workers in the Marianas should be receiving. The total weekly amount is $945, more than in 18 U.S. states.

Immediately after winning coverage for Marianas in the CARES Act, Congressman Sablan extracted a clarification from U.S. Labor that CNMI government employees would be eligible for $945 weekly assistance. Sablan said that most of the complaints his office receives about the long-delayed checks are coming from laid-off government employees.

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