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Finance chief: ‘We’re doing our best to get the checks out’

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SECRETARY of Finance David Atalig said 300 recipients would receive their Pandemic Unemployment Assistance direct deposit payments in the morning on Friday, with an additional batch to receive theirs by 2 p.m. on the same day.

He said Finance has drawn down $15 million for PUA for the first batch.

“We have a team here at the Department of Finance working hard to get the information into the system and into the bank accounts of our recipients,” he said during a press briefing on KKMP radio. “We also expect to have another batch worked on all day and this evening so that we can send another batch of direct deposit tomorrow morning, [Saturday], before the 11 a.m. cutoff time.”

For this week, work on bigger batches of recipients will commence as the department deals with challenges involving the online portal.

“The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded $70 million readily available for us to distribute. Keep in mind, we did submit to the U.S. Department of Labor more than $240 million in projected funds that we wanted to release from now through Dec. 30, but that’s not a set number, that’s just a projection,”Atalig said.

“If more and more people submit and request for [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance/Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation], we will need more than $240 million, and those funds are available through the U.S. Department of Treasury. We just need to submit and show proof of requests for additional funds for people.”

Atalig said he and his staff are “doing our best to just get these checks out to our people. They really need this funding to help them with their lives and cope with the situation we’re in in the Commonwealth, and so I’m happy to report that the checks or the direct deposits are already being processed.”

He added, however, that PUA is taxable. “The PUA applicants or recipients are able to get their federal tax taken out. There is also a local tax, but we’re not taking that out at the point of receiving your funds,” he said, adding that the tax would amount to approximately 10% of the amount received.

He said every recipient will receive a Form 1099-G by January 30 of next year, prior to filing taxes for the year 2020.

This form will include total benefit paid, as well as any federal or territory income taxes that were withheld during the previous calendar year, he added.

“Depending on the amount you received, [those] are taxable…. I just want [everyone] to be aware of that. Just like any benefit or any income you receive, they are taxable, one way or the other, whether it’s the federal government or through local tax.”

Atalig is encouraging “everyone to submit their applications if they haven’t already. If you were affected by loss of revenue due to loss of hours, you work full time and now you’re part time, or if you lost your job, and even if you’re a [CW], I encourage you to go ahead and submit your application. It doesn’t hurt to try, and if approved, we’re able to get the money to give you. I encourage that so that we can have some economic activity on our island. We desperately need that for our revenues.”

He said the CNMI Department of Labor, for its part, has issued a PUA Benefits Right Information Handbook.

No adjustments are made to repayment of overpaid benefits, Atalig said, adding that PUA recipients must also keep receipts of the repayment of their tax returns.

As for mailed payments delivered to the wrong addresses, Atalig said any change of address must be submitted to CNMI DOL in order to receive Form 1099-G.

As for the child tax credit, which has raised a number of questions among community members, Atalig said his department has already submitted a request to the Internal Revenue Service for the first batch of child tax credit checks.

“We’re giving ourselves 30 days after the deadline of July 15. However, we already have a good amount that has been entered into the system, so instead of just keeping that in waiting, I decided to try to get that out to our people who really, really need it,” he said.

“[I] expect to have our first batch in a week or two…ahead of our schedule.”

 

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