179 return $435K in PUA overpayment

APPLYING FOR AID: A long line of people wait to enter the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Center at Guam Community College in Mangilao in this July 29, 2020, file photo. GDOL has so far received $735.25 million in unemployment aid programs from two federal agencies, of which nearly 76% has already been distributed or used. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

About 6%, or 179, of the 2,834 Guam workers who got federal unemployment aid overpayment notices in 2020 have returned the money.

The recovered amount so far totals $435,430.31.

The Guam Department of Labor released these numbers in response to The Guam Daily Post's Sunshine Reform Act request for information.

Overpayments were mainly a result of workers getting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance while at the same time also getting a portion of the Paycheck Protection Program money that their employers applied for, GDOL officials said.

Oftentimes, the workers already applied for and received the PUA before learning that their employers also started receiving PPP to keep their employees on the payroll.

"I was somehow sad when I found out about my overpayment. But when I learned that I was on PPP, I knew that I had to return the money," Andreane Tala, 26, told The Guam Daily Post.

Tala made an appointment with GDOL to return the unemployment aid overpayment of about $2,000, she said.

She was able to set aside enough money from the first claim payment, so she was able to return the overpayment, she said.

People appeal denial of claims

On Guam, 570 people filed appeals, seeking GDOL's reconsideration of its decision to deny their unemployment claims.

According to data from Guam Labor Director David Dell'Isola, 281, or 49%, of these appeals have been resolved, and 289 are still pending.

Overall, these are just a fraction of the 30,000-plus people who have so far received more than $557 million in combined unemployment assistance since June.

The total number of PUA applications determined eligible is 30,247, GDOL said.

For these pandemic-displaced workers, the unemployment benefits have kept them and their families from homelessness, hunger and deep financial ruin.

"PUA was really a big help because I was able to pay my bills," said Tala, who's now back to work but with reduced hours.

Her unemployment benefits stopped in 2021 because of the U.S. Department of Labor guidance that most of those on reduced working hours are not eligible to receive PUA. 

Tala, like thousands of others on Guam, is hoping that USDOL will reconsider the eligibility of those on reduced work hours.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and Del. Michael San Nicolas also have sought USDOL reconsideration.

What Guam received

GDOL provided the breakdown of the $735.25 million that's so far been made available to Guam by USDOL and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for three unemployment aid programs:

  • $357.95 million from USDOL for PUA; $274.07 million-plus in benefits paid so far;
  • $332.30 million from USDOL for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation; nearly $249.27 million in benefits paid so far; and
  • $45 million from FEMA for Lost Wages Assistance; nearly $33.85 million in total benefits paid so far.

Overall, GDOL was able to distribute or use nearly 76% of the total amount so far made available for pandemic-impacted workers. It batches claims every other Tuesday for payment.

GDOL received the largest amount of COVID-19 pandemic relief among all government of Guam agencies. It was approved for a $924 million budget based on initial estimates of some 38,000 displaced workers.

Congress is working on a Biden-era $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that includes extending the unemployment aid programs up to August of this year, and increasing the weekly FPUC.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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