Delegate Michael San Nicolas on Wednesday afternoon said the pandemic relief package that recently became law did not change the eligibility for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, so those who are on reduced work hours should still be eligible to get help.
San Nicolas urged for public calm and to not panic about losing eligibility for PUA.
Since the statute for eligibility has not changed, he said, it's counterintuitive to make an interpretation to "cut off a whole group of people, I would assume millions of people, from being eligible for the assistance."
In the next 24 hours or so, he said his office should be able to get greater clarity on PUA eligibility from the U.S. Department of Labor, key congressional committees and other agencies.
"Depending on their responses, I'm hoping that there would be either a statutory justification which I don't see happening, or a reversal of that administrative decision. Hopefully, the latter will be the case," San Nicolas said.
In the meantime, he asked workers on reduced hours to continue to document their situation.
San Nicolas held a news briefing hours after Guam Labor Director David Dell'Isola told local media that the extended PUA program no longer covers those on the job, even if they are on extremely reduced hours because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He cited a Jan. 8 written guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration on the extended PUA program.
"It's not something we're happy with but it's their program and it's their money. We're just the steward," Dell'Isola told The Guam Daily Post.
Attached to the USDOL guidance is a PUA implementation and operating instructions "revised Jan. 8, 2021."
It states, in part, "An individual who is working reduced hours while his or her place of employment continues to operate does not satisfy the conditions to self-certify under item (jj)," which is about a place of employment closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The online system could start accepting additional claims by late morning Thursday, Dell'Isola said, although this time could still change.
San Nicolas said if USDOL or congressional committees confirm the guidance that Dell'Isola received, "then we just have to wait for the new administration to come in and make it very plain to them that this interpretation by the outgoing administration was not only statutory inaccurate but it’s harmful."
Those who still do not have a job or still on furlough as a direct result of the pandemic are still eligible to receive PUA, along with self-employed individuals with reduced income because of the pandemic.
This story will be updated.