Remaining 'bugs' in online program prevent workers from seeking unemployment aid

NEARLY EMPTY: The Pleasure Island shopping district in Tumon appears nearly empty of foot and vehicle traffic Tuesday afternoon. As tourism dries up and many residents stay home amid the growing COVID-19 public health crisis, many island businesses are taking a hit. Dontana Keraskes/The Guam Daily Post

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero announced just after 2 p.m. Monday that Guam's federally funded unemployment aid programs have been launched.

"We are now able to – online - you are now able to apply for these benefits," the governor said.

There are going to be some glitches, and the governor asked for patience.

It's been 12 weeks since Guam was placed under a state of emergency, the governor stated.

She called it "a great success story" for the government of Guam to have launched the unemployment programs in a matter of weeks.

More than 22,795 affected workers are expected to apply for federal unemployment benefits.

Guam Labor Director David Dell'Isolla has repeatedly asked people for their patience as the department tries to work on the unemployment benefits program.

Nearly 23,000 need aid

Meanwhile, the number of displaced workers desperate for financial help to help pay their bills continues to climb.

As of 1 a.m. Monday, there's 22,795 workers who have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or who are working fewer hours as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That's 60% of the 38,000 workers that Guam Labor estimated to be affected by the pandemic.

The numbers are based on the information provided by 1,215 employers via hireguam.com, according to Hannah Cho, special projects coordinator at Guam Labor.

The numbers do not include those from self-employed individuals whose earnings took a dip from the pandemic, including real estate agents, entertainers and cosmetologists.

Some mayors' offices stand ready to assist residents who do not have computers with internet connection to file the necessary online application for their unemployment benefits.

As of Monday, the mayors' offices were waiting for Guam Labor to provide their staff with training or briefing on how to assist villagers. Until Guam Labor provides them with further direction, the mayors' offices won't be able to provide assistance yet with unemployment benefits.

Money is with GovGuam

On Guam, qualified workers could receive up to $945 a week in federal unemployment benefits through July, and up to $345 a week after that through the end of the year.

Guam Labor contracted, through a $791,850 sole-source procurement, Florida-based Geographic Solutions for the computer system that runs the unemployment benefits program, which is integrated in hireguam.com. The software is key to the local rollout of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs.

Geographic Solutions, the same company that developed the programs for hireguam.com in 2013, was awarded the project on April 21.

Since April, Guam Labor has been asking employers with workers affected by COVID-19 to register with hireguam.com and for affected employees to prepare documents such as a photo ID, recent pay stubs and letter from their employer.

The U.S. Department of Labor released an initial allotment of $276 million to Guam Labor.

That means the funding is readily available for Guam to distribute. All that's needed is for the applications of affected workers to be accepted, reviewed and decided on. Guam Labor applied for a $924 million budget.

This story is developing.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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