More than three months since she was furloughed from her hotel job on March 28, Sharon Reyes is getting more worried by the day for her four children.
It has also been more than a month since she filed an unemployment claim on June 4. She chose to receive the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefit in the form of a paper check, as opposed to an electronic transfer of funds into her bank account.
"(It) says I don't have any outstanding issues. But up until now, it says my claims are still in progress. It's frustrating. Very frustrating," she said Friday.
She is among 34,044 workers who have so far been laid off, furloughed, or had a reduction in work hours since March as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With tourism at a standstill, there's no telling when she will be called back to work.
"I am running out of patience to the point where I feel like forgetting the help I'm expecting from the (Department of Labor)," she said.
But the thought of her children going hungry or the whole family being forced out of their apartment makes her feel more compelled to follow up on the federally funded unemployment assistance provided to COVID-19-affected workers like her.
Claims filed through June 4 were supposed to be among the second batch of payments. The fourth batch is now being processed for release next week.
Reyes is concerned that opting for a paper check payment over direct bank deposit may be delaying her benefits.
Others who opted for paper checks also have not received their benefits, while others who filed at the same time but chose direct bank deposit have already received theirs.
So they've been pressing DOL for fair treatment, or at the very least, to allow them to change their payment option.
"And I tried emailing and calling. But it just gets really frustrating," Reyes said. "I mean, I understand the Department of Labor is trying its best. But all my frustration is really because of all the bills piling. I wouldn't worry much if I didn't have four kids to try and keep a roof over their heads and try to maintain food for them."
Last week, Sheryll Y. Palaganas told The Guam Daily Post about her plea for Labor to be fair by releasing the benefits in the order the applications were received regardless of the payment option.
On Friday, Palaganas said Labor contacted her, and granted her request to change from paper check to direct bank deposit.
Reyes hopes she and others like her will also be allowed to change their payment option.
"But the number I keep calling hasn't picked up yet," she said.
DOL has asked for patience in light of the volume of calls and emails received for the PUA program.
Payments processed so far include:
- $35.5 million plus $3 million in taxes, released June 22 for error-free PUA claims filed from May 30 to June 1.
- $36.4 million plus $3.2 million in taxes, released June 30, for error-free claims filed through June 4.
- $37.9 million plus $3.5 million in taxes, released July 6, for error-free claims filed through June 12.
- $20.8 million including taxes, to be released July 13, for error-free claims filed through June 16.
As of Friday, 28,481, or nearly 84% of 34,044 displaced workers, have filed initial unemployment claims.
This is based on the reporting of 1,920 employers on hireguam.com, according to Hannah Cho, special projects coordinator for DOL.
DOL asked for a $924 million PUA budget, estimating 38,000 displaced workers during the COVID-19 crisis, and received an initial allotment of $276 million.