$36.9M in unemployment checks ready to be mailed out

UNEMPLOYMENT HELP: People continue to line up outside the Dededo Library on June 22 to register for unemployment assistance. The library is one of the sites that the Guam Department of Labor has set up to help people if they are having difficulty registering online. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post


Roughly $35 million in unemployment assistance payments was released Monday afternoon, and should soon be in the hands of thousands of workers who were directly displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This first batch of payments are for those who filed unemployment claims between May 30 and June 1 — if their claims are error-free.

Electronic fund transfers and paper checks will be issued to error-free claims on a first-in, first-out basis, the Guam Department of Labor said.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, during a COVID-19 news briefing on Monday, announced the $35 million was processed and released after "some technical glitches with the electronic transfer" were corrected.

The amount is slightly larger than the "more than $33 million" that Guam DOL officials confirmed over the weekend. 

The Guam Daily Post asked how many displaced workers this covered but as of press time that wasn't confirmed. On Monday, some residents shared on social media that they have started checking their bank accounts and mail boxes since the governor's announcement.

More people waiting 

Many are also still waiting for Labor to help them correct the errors in their online application, including Mary Joyce Pineda, 31.

She said her unemployment claim which she filed on May 31 has been "processed" for a pay date of June 22, but her mistake "hasn't been fixed" for three weeks now.

Without that mistake fixed, she would lose two months' worth of unemployment benefits.

"My mistake was I input the wrong start date for my claim. Instead of March, I input May. My furlough letter clearly shows March but I made the mistake of inputting May because of the question 'last day worked," Pineda told The Guam Daily Post.

About one more month without financial help, she said, her personal savings will all be used up.

"I've been trying to reach out to them but have failed numerous times. I've brought it up since June 5 but was always told to be patient," she said.

Guam Labor has advised those who have issues with their claims to email pua.hotline@dol.guam.gov.

If claimants have already emailed, the PUA team will respond as soon as they can. The department has noted there is a currently high volume of inquiries at this time. 

While payments have started, more than 8,000 displaced workers have yet to file an initial unemployment claim, based on Guam Labor data.

SUBHEAD:

Public patience

The governor lauded Labor Director David Dell'Isola for developing the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program  in 12 weeks. She reiterated that labor agencies in the mainland have had the unemployment programs for 80 years, making it easier for them to dole out cash to displaced workers in their jurisdictions. 

"I also wanted to say that the government of Guam had worked quickly to try and get the monies into the hands of our people," she said.

Dell'Isola said his department is "relieved to have the first batch of claims paid out, which claimants can expect by direct deposit or mail."

"We have been working very hard with Department of Administration to ensure our payment process is efficient and ongoing. We thank the governor and lieutenant governor for clearing the trail to keep us moving forward. We also want to thank the public for their patience," Dell'Isola said in a statement.

Initial payments this week can be up to $10,000, and possibly more, for each applicant.

Eligible Guam workers can receive up to $945 a week in unemployment benefits through July and up to $345 a week through the end of the year.

With the initial payments, up to $35 million will begin circulating in the local economy this week as displaced workers are able to pay their apartment rental, utility bills, loans and buy food.

31,000 displaced workers

This comes a month after the U.S. Department of Labor released the initial $276 million for Guam's PUA program.

It also comes two months after Guam Labor's sole-source procurement deal with Florida-based Geographic Solutions to develop the online application program.

The governor said GovGuam released other forms of financial relief  – funded by the federal government – while the unemployment programs were being established. 

"I wanna assure the public that the delays – if there were any – is not at all because we didn't want to get the money into the hands of the people," the governor said, adding that the federal government took weeks to issue the guidelines for COVID-19 benefit programs.

About 22,500 Guamanians have filed initial unemployment claims, many of them unemployed since March - more than three months now.

That's just a portion of the 31,187 workers who were laid off, furloughed or whose work hours were reduced as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guam Labor sought a budget of $924 million for the local roll out of the PUA and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs.

Report fraud

Guam Labor continues to encourage the public to report unemployment fraud to protect local and federal tax dollars by emailing pua.fraud@dol.guam.gov, or by calling the Office of Inspector General Hotline at 800.347.3756.

Claimant fraud may include knowingly submitting false information (social security, income, etc.), collecting benefits when ineligible, certifying for benefits while not being able and available to work, or intentionally collecting full benefits while not reporting wages or income.

In-person applications are also continuing, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for first-time applicants, by appointment only. Applicants can call for an appointment at the Guam Community College processing center, at 988-3672, 788-0729, 689-1872, or at one of the roving locations at public library sites.

• Dededo: June 25 and 29

• Hagåtña: June 23, 27 and 30

• Yona: June 26 

Residents can also apply over the phone by calling 735-0518 through 0526.

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