US Department of Labor commends CNMI for proper implementation of PUA program

In a conference call on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, the US Department of Labor (USDOL) Region 6 Office commended the CNMI Department of Labor for its proper implementation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, citing seven best practices.

Secretary of Labor Vicky Benavente and key staff within the CNMI Department of Labor’s (CNMI DOL) PUA program met virtually with U.S. Department of Labor – Employment & Training Administration (USDOL-ETA) representatives from the Region 6 office in San Francisco.

The meeting was held to discuss the culmination of a six-month long monitoring review (from April to September 2021) of the CNMI DOL’s overall administration of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) programs in the Marianas.

The following categories were reviewed by the USDOL ETA:

·      Initial Claims, Continued Claims, Adjudication

·      Appeals

·      Integrity

·      Administrative, Operations, Reporting & Fiscal

·      Employer Activities

The CNMI DOL PUA program was commended by the Region 6 office for initiating seven “Promising Practices” within its program operations – a feat separating the CNMI from other states and territories. The following Best Practices were identified by U.S. DOL ETA:

  1. The CNMI appeal process data reveals that the hearing and hearing-to-decision times were excellent.
  2. CNMI has demonstrated agility by manually reviewing cases docketed for appeals before the hearing date to determine if the issue at hand can be resolved and avoid the need for an appeal hearing. 
  3. The CNMI Education and Training Outreach Program to Employer and Claimants was a key component that provided clarifying information about the PUA program to employers and claimants.
  4. CNMI has dedicated staff for claims services access.   These dedicated resources provide accommodations for individuals including those with language barriers, limited internet access, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, literacy challenges and technology issues.
  5. The CNMI created and employed a checklist for its PUA coordinators.  This checklist covers eligibility issues, fact-finding, investigating claims and drafting determinations.  This resource has proven helpful to staff and helps to ensure consistent experiences for claimants.
  6. CNMI enacted multiple identification verification processes including the [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements] SAVE and cross-matching information with employers.
  7. The CNMI DOL Benefits Payment Control Unit verifies business information with other government or local entities to detect benefits fraud not otherwise reported.

The CNMI DOL’s efforts in administering the programs were highlighted by the Region 6 office since the PUA and FPUC programs were new programs that required a brand new and compatible online system.  In addition, the CNMI does not employ a regular unemployment insurance (UI) program like other states and was therefore unequipped with proper UI infrastructure to begin with, and staffing shortages were experienced by virtually all states and territories.  Fraudulent claims activities were rampant; there were new legislation and therefore programs (e.g., stimulus care packages) were being effectuated simultaneously with the PUA/FPUC programs, and claims volumes were remarkably high because of the pandemic.

“As our federal colleagues have stated during our meeting, the CNMI is doing its job as best as it can, by following all federal guidelines. I owe the program’s successes to the excellent working relationship we have developed over the past year with the Region 6 office personnel, the unwavering dedication of the CNMI DOL management team and Governor Ralph Torres’ Administration, the patience and understanding of our claimants, and most especially, the reliable and hardworking staff of the CNMI DOL PUA program. The program however, is far from over and we intend to do it justice by continuing to comply with federal and local laws and regulations so that the people of the Marianas who qualify for the programs, continue to get their much-needed benefits,” said Secretary Benavente.

“The CNMI DOL led by Secretary Benavente have worked very hard under strict federal guidelines, and for them to receive praise from USDOL for their work is a big accomplishment. The work has not stopped to make sure PUA benefits go out to eligible recipients, and we are doing work with the private sector to create new jobs for our people through economic development in the coming months,” said Governor Ralph DLG. Torres.

For further information or to follow up on the status of your claim, please contact the PUA Communication Center at tel. (670) 322-8870/8871/8872/887/8874 or email info@puamarianas.com. You may also visit the PUA office at CNMI DOL building number 1334 on Capitol Hill.

Additional Department of Labor telephones:

•       PUA Fraud Hotline 989-9095

•       Benefits Payment Control Unit 322-9943/322-9944

•       Administrative Services 664-3196/322-9947

•       Employment Services 664-3190/322-9934/664-3298

•       Enforcement Division 322-4365/323-9940

•       Administrative Hearing Office 664-3290/664-3291

•       OSHA 664-3156/664-3157

•       WIOA 664-1708/664-1757

CNMI DOL is an equal opportunity employer/program and auxiliary aids and services are available upon request to individuals with disabilities.  Visit the CNMI DOL’s website at www.marianaslabor.net for more PUA/FPUC – related information.

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CNMI Office of the Governor

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