$50M in unemployment aid coming up

CALL CENTER: The 311 Call Center, which was located at Guam Community College at the time of this photograph on July 31, is busy with phones ringing as thousands of displaced workers seek assistance. Officials said the next payment of unemployment benefits will likely exceed $50 million as concerns about fraud held back the payout of last week's batch. Haruo Simion/The Guam Daily Post

Guam Department of Labor Director David Dell'Isola on Tuesday said "over $50 million" in unemployment benefits is being prepared for payment.

The amount is larger than most of the previous batches. That's because Labor skipped last week's payments over increased suspicious claims that came mostly from the states or elsewhere.

"They are still running each day of the batch with the extra security measures," Dell'Isola said. "I know it will be over $50 million. Just keeping an eye on each day to see how the fraud measures are working."

The latest batch of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is expected to be finalized by the end of day today. "A batch is forthcoming," Dell'Isola said.

It will cover cleared claims filed through July 11.

Some of the island's displaced workers on Tuesday said they started getting a pay date of Aug. 4, which means they could receive the benefits in a matter of days – as early as this weekend.

"I'm just blessed that I finally got a pay date even if it did take this long to get helped," Kelaiah Ulloa told The Guam Daily Post.

Ulloa was furloughed from her daycare center job in March because of the COVID shutdown.

Since filing her PUA claim on June 5, she's yet to get a payment because of a pay stub issue with her claim that she said was finally resolved after an in-person appointment on Monday.

"I do think the fraud cases held back my claims (from) being fixed sooner," she said.

Guam Labor has been trying to address fraudulent claims with the help of its software vendor, as well as local and federal agencies such as the FBI and the Office of Inspector General at U.S. Labor.

Ulloa's employer got a Paycheck Protection Program loan for eight weeks so that helped her family, including a newborn and two toddlers, survive.

"But before and after that, bills started piling up," she said, worried that her family could be evicted from their apartment for missing a month and a half of payment. 

Despite all the challenges, she said, she's thankful her family has PUA benefits to look forward to.

$63M remains

Of the initial $276 million federal allotment released to Guam, about $63 million remains.

That's after the last batch of payments brought total claims and taxes paid to about $212.5 million, based on Labor data.

Guam Labor awaits the U.S. Department of Labor's release of the second allotment. Guam asked for a $924 million PUA budget.

More than 20,000 displaced workers have already received their initial and/or weekly unemployment benefits.

To date, thousands of claims are either still under review, in limbo, or delayed by fraud concerns.

Patience and blessings

Carmen Meno said patience and counting one's blessings in the midst of hardship goes a long way.

Her fiancé lost his job in late March and applied for PUA on June 12. Meno, luckily, continued her job, albeit at reduced work hours.

"He still hasn't received it but hopefully by this weekend, he will see that long-awaited check," she said. "Because of the length of time with no work, he started applying elsewhere and with the Lord's blessings, he was called for an interview on the 22nd of July and started a new job on the 23rd, his birthday."

More than 35,000 Guam workers have been laid off, furloughed or got pay cuts as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the initial claims filed reached more than 36,000, and the discrepancy is attributed partly to fraudulent claims from off island.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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