Guam Department of Labor Director David Dell’Isola said the U.S. Department of Labor sent him an agreement on Tuesday morning for Guam’s unemployment program.
He said he plans to read it over, sign it and then take it over to Governor Lou Leon Guerrero to sign as well. Dell’Isola says barring any unforeseen problems, this should be the last major hurdle to stand up Guam’s unemployment program.
Dell’Isola spoke to K57’s Patti Arroyo on Tuesday morning, after a high-level meeting with his federal counterparts.
Here’s our Q&A with the Director on all the latest regarding Guam’s unemployment program:
Q. So what exactly is in this agreement you’ll be signing?
A. This is what was needed for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)…that’s the $600 “top-up” from the Feds. It’s a little complicated, but, there are two separate programs: the PUA and the FPUC. At first, the federal government was not going to give Guam and other territories the FPUC, but we banded together and made enough noise about it, so they changed their mind and agreed to give our people the $600 additional for 13 weeks, just like other states.
This agreement reflects that specific part of the program.
Q. What’s the status on the online module and application process?
A. Close to 300 employers, just yesterday (Monday), inputted over 2000 employees’ details who have been affected or displaced, by Coronavirus economic impacts, after we launched Phase Two. It may not be perfect, but we stood this program up in a couple of weeks. It’s running, it’s going, and I have a crew of people continuing to develop the program.
This specific vendor we’re using is also standing up the PUA program for 7 or 8 other states…so they have the know-how and the relationship with U.S. DOL already. It would usually take 8-9 months to develop a program like this, but we’re doing it in a month.
Q. So what’s the next step for unemployed people?
A. The software vendor is working on Guam’s program and we should have that within 2-3 weeks. Then we can start taking online applications, we can start adjudicating those applications and getting them approved. So that, as soon as we get the money, everything will be lined up and money will be sent out immediately. I know it’s not fast enough, but we’re working 7 days a week, up to 14 hours a day to get this program up and running for our Island.
Q. What’s an honest timeline for the application process will be open to employees?
A. The Governor told me sometime between the second and third week of May is what I’m shooting for. And if the software is live and we’ve worked out the bugs before that, then it’ll go live earlier. But it has to work; it’s a very powerful software, that takes adjudicated claims and automatically issues their check amount to our center and then we process it from there.
Q. Do people who’ve had their pay cut or hours reduced qualify for any of the unemployment programs?
A. In order to receive the FPUC ($600 top-up), you must first qualify for at least $1 of the $345 PUA per week. That means, anyone making $344 and less a week, due to Coronavirus related cut backs, qualifies for PUA, which triggers their qualification for the $600 FPUC, as well.
So, you make the difference between your weekly take home salary and the $345 threshold, and then the $600 standard payment. Eg. If your reduced hours/pay, leave you taking home only $330 per week due to COVID cut backs, you would get the $15 difference between that amount, and the $345 PUA. Then on top of that $15, you’d get the $600 standard amount.
The $600 top-up would be only for 13 weeks; followed by 26 weeks of PUA (whatever the difference between your take home the $345 is).
If you have reduced pay/hours but still make $345 and more per week, you do not qualify for any of the unemployment programs.
Q. What if people get called back to work?
A. If your employer calls you back to work and you refuse to go back so you can stay on assistance, you’ll be disqualified from the unemployment program.
Q. Can employees go online and see if their employers filed for their place of work?
A. No. The only key thing for employees is getting their own paperwork and ducks in row, because you’ll eventually put in your claim, and if you don’t have that letter from your employer, there will be other opportunities for you to self-certify under the perjury of federal law, that the information you’re submitting is true and correct and we [Guam DOL] will take it initially.
Q. What if we have more unemployed people than the 38,800 that Guam DOL estimates?
A. This plan includes anyone that’s affected by COVID. We had to give the U.S. DOL a realistic estimate of unemployed residents to base the budget request on. That 38,800 amounted to our budget ask of $924 million, which they will give to us in installments. If we need more than this amount, to reflect an increase in eligible unemployed residents, then they will give us more funding as needed.
Q. What if people lose their jobs later this year?
A. Anyone who has been unemployed because of COVID, between now and the end of December, qualifies for this program. If you get rehired and then laid off again, you still qualify for the program, as long as it’s because of COVID-related economic impacts.
Q. Will anyone’s application be rejected?
A. There will be a huge amount of applications that will need a second-check, just to make sure we have the right details and ultimately, the integrity. U.S. DOL has emphasized that all the applications and decisions need to stand up to future audits with this program. So, out of the nearly 40,000 people applying on Guam, there will be several thousand who will need second looks and need more time.
Q. With so many Freedom of Information Acts coming your way David, is there anything we don’t know that’s happening at Guam DOL?
A. The only thing that hasn’t been made public (until now), is that Guam DOL is standing up a processing center.
I’m not going to say where it is or when it will be open, because people are going to flock there looking for their money. But it’s not the time yet for that. I can’t have a mile-long line outside with all the social distancing requirements.
But what I can do, is put the proper protections in place, like an appointment-only system and ensure PPEs are supplied to employees etc. That’s being worked on.
Q. What about after the 39 weeks of unemployment payments?
A. The software vendor that we’re using for this program, is the same one for www.hireguam.com so the systems talk to each other. Eventually, when people are off the unemployment payments, those who are laid off will have to go to hireguam.com and look for retraining opportunities or new jobs. All the information will go back and forth between the systems.
Q. What about people who have more questions?
A. My team is actually constantly listening and gathering questions from the public, to get answers and build Q&A/Fact Sheets to make publics. We’re also working on developing PSAs as well.