Guam's unemployment claims filing reopens today for those still without a job or on furlough because of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as questions remain on whether those on reduced work hours can still get the same federal aid.
The hireguam.com portal was scheduled to start accepting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims from eligible residents as soon as Friday rolls in, Guam Department of Labor Director David Dell'Isola said.
This means filing can begin at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
But those who are now back on the job, regardless of work-hour reductions, are no longer eligible to apply for and receive PUA, Dell'Isola said, as a reminder.
"Like I said, it's a decision we don't like and don't agree with but we have to follow the (U.S. Department of Labor) guidelines. Unless a fix is found, whether administrative or legislative, this is what we're going to follow," Dell'Isola told The Guam Daily Post on Thursday.
This is based on revised Jan. 8 guidelines from the federal labor department, Dell'Isola said.
Those on reduced work hours who try to file may face overpayment, he said.
Self-employed individuals whose incomes are still diminished because of the pandemic are still allowed to file and receive PUA, Dell'Isola said.
'Not consistent' with law
Guam Del. Michael San Nicolas on Thursday issued a statement saying the Guam Labor director's message that workers on reduced hours cannot claim unemployment benefits is "not consistent" with the law authorizing the benefits.
That law extended PUA coverage and restarted the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation through the middle of March.
"Congress has made no change in law to prompt this dramatic shift in interpretation, and we will work with the Biden Administration to fix the confusion," San Nicolas wrote. "The public is urged not to panic as we work to address this misinterpretation."
Dell'Isola said just like San Nicolas, he acknowledges the impact of the USDOL guidelines on thousands of Guam workers still on reduced work hours because of the pandemic.
But at this point, he said, Guam will follow the USDOL guidelines.
Opening the claims filing system will allow those with totally no income to start filing for unemployment claims.
Should there be administrative or legislative remedy to help those on reduced work hours, Dell'Isola said GDOL will do its best to help them get back on the system.
The claims filing was postponed for several hours, from late Thursday morning to early Friday morning for additional minor system tweaks, he said.
Thousands of Guam's private sector workers were previously getting PUA to supplement their income.
Many of these workers are paid less than $200 a week because they only have fewer than 20 hours of work as most businesses remain on limited operation, per COVID-19 restrictions.
For many, there's no telling when they will be able to resume a normal 40-hour workweek.
The extended PUA provides $345 a week, plus $300 in weekly FPUC, for a total of $645 a week in federal unemployment assistance.
This weekly federal assistance is so much more than the weekly income of those who are back on the job but on reduced hours, that's why many of the workers interviewed called the eligibility change "unfair" and "disappointing."
Many of the workers interviewed said while they are very much disheartened by the eligibility change, they would wait until there's further announcement rather than run the risk of being ordered to pay back the amount later on.
They are also looking forward to more business activity and more work hours, especially now that Guam will move to Pandemic Condition of Readiness 2 on Monday.
Batching on Tuesday
Dell'Isola said batching of claims for payment will be done on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, GDOL's satellite PUA center at the Dededo Library will continue to accept appointments for those with issues or concerns with their PUA claims.
Walk-ins are still not allowed at this point.