Governor to Kilili: ‘Let’s work together’

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"THIS pandemic is not something that either of us should politicize," Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said in response to an open letter he received from U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan last week regarding the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Unemployment Compensation processing efforts.

Torres also noted that there has yet to be a response or any word from the congressional office about the PUA/FPUC status for some community members, mainly contract workers who are currently ineligible for this assistance.

The governor cited a letter sent on June 15 by CNMI DOL Secretary Vicky I. Benavente to the congressman expressing her concerns about this particular issue.

“We are extremely concerned about these community members and their ability to meet their basic needs because we personally advocated for their eligibility,” the governor said.

“We would like to take this opportunity to, again, strongly encourage your congressional office to pursue eligibility for our CW-1 residents who urgently need this help.”

Torres said it is also untrue that the department has had five months since the signing of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to issue PUA/FPUC payments.

"The funding for the program was not made available until June 10, 2020," the governor said, adding that after receiving additional guidance from USDOL, the PUA/FPUC was launched on June 17.

He stressed how tremendously hard the CNMI Department of Labor has been working to develop this unemployment program from the ground up.

“These efforts comprised of reassigning public employees from various other agencies, hiring temporary employees, and providing training for all of the PUA staff, including existing DOL employees among other critical management and planning endeavors,” the governor said.

He added that CNMI DOL is required to quickly master and administer the tedious application processes, and at the same time, ensure that knowledgeable staff remain readily available to address public questions and concerns.

The governor said  to date, over 10,000 applicants have been received, noting that CNMI DOL has already processed and paid the PUA/FPUC of roughly 7,000 applicants.

Fraudulent claims were also addressed in the governor’s letter to the congressman. Properly vetting and processing all applications thoroughly and responsibly is crucial to ensure that the process is as timely as possible, the governor said.

Regarding the funds  provided to hire staff to process applications, the governor said  CNMI DOL received $1,770,584 for necessary equipment and personnel.

He added that his administration has directed all available resources to the efficient processing of the PUA/FPUC applications, and continues to extend these resources for as long as they are needed.

“Through these concerted efforts, CNMI DOL has made significant strides in addressing the most dire needs of our community,” he said.

He added that his administration will continue to keep the people of the Commonwealth as safe as possible.

“While our efforts so far have been successful, I would prefer that matters of concern be better addressed for the people of our Commonwealth,” he said.

Instead of issuing “open letters,” the governor suggested  a “channel of communication where issues of concern may be brought to the table….”

He said this “will prove to be more fruitful and beneficial for the people we serve than a production of statements for public consumption during an election period.”

Torres implored Kilili to consider working together to resolve issues that affect the CNMI community, rather than continuing this game of “one-upmanship” that neither of them should have the time for during a global pandemic.



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