Guam Labor finds bogus claims for jobless benefits

ASSISTANCE: Guam Department of Labor personnel assist people in filling out their application forms at the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program center on the campus at Guam Community College in Mangilao Monday. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Guam Department of Labor Director David Dell'Isola on Wednesday told senators his agency has put on hold for investigation a number of suspected fraudulent unemployment claims.

Dell'Isola said in the course of review or investigation, some claimants would tell on their co-workers.

"As we are calling and fixing and checking out fraud claims, they are often the ones that will say if I don't get it then (also) my other co-workers and they report that," he said.

Labor, he said, has been finding unemployment claims filed by people who have not lost jobs.

He said it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out when a claim is a fraud and not just a mistake or oversight.

"We are seeing that we are getting claims from poor countries. We are seeing claims from the U.S. mainland which have no ties to Guam. We are seeing identity theft in claims going in," he said.

There are also "duplicate claims" and "false claims," he said.

Sen. Régine Biscoe Lee's labor committee held an oversight hearing on the Guam Department of Labor's Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

Lee and other senators pressed Dell'Isola if there's any investigation into a possible breach of privacy or confidentiality laws by any Guam Labor personnel.

Dell'Isola told senators that when he learned about a possible breach of confidentiality or breach of privacy, "we quickly went down and started looking and investigating."

"To this date, there was no evidence that anything came out of my department," he said.

Dell'Isola said he likes to think the measures in place are "strong."

"But of course nothing is ever perfect in this island and this community. I assure you as I assure everybody that if we hear of any person that breaches this confidentiality or privacy, I will be the first one to make sure we forward those names to the AG and to the U.S. (Inspector General) for possible prosecution," he told senators.

Genuine mistake

Sen. Louise Muna, at the oversight hearing, asked whether there have been cases similar to hers and whether there are options for them.

Muna applied for and later withdrew her unemployment aid application. The senator said it was a genuine mistake.

The senator said she lost all her income from her business license as a musician and as a certified gym instructor, and didn't realize until later that she is ineligible to apply because she still has a job as a senator earning $55,000-plus a year that was not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senators asked how much is left of the initial $276 million released by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Dell'Isola said Guam Labor has so far processed nearly $120 million in unemployment benefits, inclusive of taxes. About $41 million should show up in bank accounts by Monday or Tuesday.

This means only about 40% has been used, he said.

Dell'Isola said he plans on requesting the second allotment from U.S. Labor once his agency has already processed at least 75% of the initial amount. He asked for a total budget of $924 million.

To date, 32,913 workers have been laid off, furloughed or got work hour reduction as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

This is based on the reporting of 1,856 employers on hireguam.com.

Dell'Isola said there have been at least 29,432 initial unemployment claims filed.

In responding to senators' questions, Dell'Isola said if he can go back in time, he would have "staffed 100" people to help with the PUA program during the pandemic.

He gave kudos to Labor economist Gary Hiles for his initial estimate of 38,000 workers to be impacted by the pandemic using statistical models.

"That's fairly accurate," he said.

With nearly 33,000 actual displaced workers, the number has been "slowing down" recently. It used to grow by thousands a day to just hundreds a day.

"We are starting to reach that plateau," he said, barring additional quarantine measures and spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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