2 jobless claimants heard, more than 100 waiting

FOOD COMMODITIES: Bags such as this one containing canned goods, pastas and other nonperishable goods are prepared for distribution recently in Ordot-Chalan Pago. Roughly 350 bags of food were distributed through The Emergency Food Assistance Program administered by the Guam Department of Education. Haruo Simion/The Guam Daily Post

Two individuals who are appealing the Guam Department of Labor's denial of their federal pandemic unemployment claim got their formal hearing on Tuesday, and more than 100 others are waiting for their turn to be heard.

Assistant Attorney General Phil Tydingco serves as the hearing officer or referee for the unemployment aid appeals process, which formally opened on Tuesday.

Two hearings each day will be held in the first week, Guam Labor Director David Dell'Isola said. The number would increase as everyone gets used to the process.

"The first day of the hearings went well based on staff briefing. We learned a lot on the first day. The process will get better as time goes by," the director said.

Hearings are expected to last until December. Each of the hearings on Tuesday lasted about 40 minutes, he said.

As of the latest update, there's at least 111 individuals appealing Guam Labor's determinations of their disqualifications or ineligibility to receive benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and/or Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs.

"Everyone is entitled to an appeal," Dell'Isola said.

The appeals hearings are not open to the public as directed by the U.S. Department of Labor, the director said.

More than 30,000 Guam residents have received their lump sum and weekly unemployment benefits.

Re-batch for payments

Dell'Isola also said on Tuesday that Guam Labor is re-batching the latest unemployment claims, and payments can still be expected as early as Friday or Saturday.

Guam Labor caught "thousands" of fraudulent claims in the initial claims batched on Tuesday, so they had to prepare a new batch.

"There's way too much fraud that we need to deal with. A new batch will be created," Dell'Isola said. "My priority is to get the payments out, but we need to re-batch and get rid of the fraud."

There have also been recent new or renewal claims being filed as a result of the second lockdown and as the benefits of the Paycheck Protection Program have run out.

"I also want to note that a lot of the businesses held on to their employees as long as possible. But the PPP and other benefits have run out, so they don't have a choice but to let them go, and some were let go in July or just recently," he said.

This is the first week of the every-other-week claims batching for payments.

This week's batching is supposed to cover cleared claims filed through Aug. 24. But the initial batch of claims that came back totaled $32 million, which Dell'Isola said is a "very high" number" so they had to review the whole process.

Guam Labor caught claims amounting to $10,000 to $16,000 and they have been flagged, since most of the lump sum claims have been released several weeks ago.

But other claimants have devised other tricks to try to defraud the system, so Guam Labor continues to work with the FBI and other agencies to address these types of claims, Dell'Isola said.

At this time, most of those who were laid off, furloughed or got work hour cuts as a direct result of the pandemic are waiting for their weekly benefits.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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