$50M more in aid for Guam's jobless

GETTING HELP: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance staff member Peter Santos checks the temperatures of unemployment aid applicants before ushering them into the PUA processing center at Guam Community College on June 15. The island's unemployment assistance program received $50 million more, covering cleared claims through July 28. Post file photo.

Federal unemployment paper checks have started reaching mailboxes, but the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown has presented a new set of challenges for those who can't cash them.

Ann Chang, one of Guam's 36,000-plus displaced workers, was "relieved" to finally get her first Pandemic Unemployment Assistance paper check.

"But I wasn't able to find a place to cash my check due to it being a big amount," she told The Guam Daily Post on Tuesday.

There are others like her who now have to wait until the lockdown is over so that banks can reopen their face-to-face services.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's lockdown order placed businesses, including banks, on temporary closures at least until Friday afternoon. This was to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 after recent increases in deaths, hospitalizations and positive cases.

Some Guam retail establishments do cash checks, but only up to a certain amount.

Those who received their first PUA checks would see large amounts because they're the sum of benefits from the start of their displacement from work, until the date of their initial claims filing, which could be as early as May 30.

Even non-bank businesses that allow bigger check cashing are currently closed because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

"I'm just hoping the lockdown would be over," Chang said. 

Despite this hiccup, Chang is thankful she finally got the help she needs.

"It was really hard trying to live off of paycheck after paycheck, especially with the bills piling up," she said. "I was relieved the minute I knew I got my check but the biggest problem after, was trying to cash."

'It's really helped a lot'

On Monday night, Those who opted to receive their PUA payments through direct bank deposits started receiving their benefits, part of the $36.9 million batch that Guam Labor Director David Dell'Isola announced earlier.

"He's so happy," Angela Charley said, when her husband found out that his very first PUA payment is now in his bank account. "He said he's going to get a car for work and our kids."

Her husband's paycheck has been drastically reduced – from the regular five-day workweek to only about two days a week.

"It's really helped a lot," Charley said, of the unemployment benefits.

She was furloughed from March to the first week of August, and just recently got called back to work but for only two days a week, too.

"It can be two days this week, and the following, no (work)," she said.

Some 30,000 displaced workers have so far received their unemployment benefits through the Guam Department of Labor, Dell'Isola said.

As of Tuesday, 2,054 Guam employers reported that 36,346 workers have been laid off, furloughed or got work hour reductions as a direct result of the COVID-10 pandemic. 

Unemployment claims filed, meanwhile, are nearly reaching 50,000, inclusive of claims filed by self-employed individuals as well as flagged fraudulent claims mostly from outside Guam. As of Tuesday, the initial claims filed were at 49,989, according to Labor special projects coordinator Hannah Cho.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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