Gov. Vázquez enacts law that adds wait week as unemployment benefit
Filers will not need to assert they are looking for work when receiving benefit during state of emergency
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced has signed Senate Bill 1574, as Act 54 of 2020, for the Labor and Human Resources Department (DTRH) to provide Unemployment Insurance Program benefits to cover the week filers waited to receive the first unemployment check. The new law also temporarily exempts workers from the requirement of actively searching for a job while a state of emergency has been declared.
“Although the Department of Labor and Human Resources has already been administratively implementing measures to make the eligibility for benefits more flexible during this period in which they are so necessary for our workforce, it was essential to amend the Puerto Rico Employment Security Act to elevate them to a statutory rank and comply with federal requirements,” Labor Secretary Briseida Torres was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the governor’s office.
The new law grants the top Labor Department official the power to exempt filers for unemployment benefits from the job search requirement during states of emergency “when authorization from the federal Department of Labor has been obtained,” the news release reads. “Unlike the wait week, an applicant’s job search is a federal government-imposed eligibility requirement for state unemployment programs.”
Vázquez said the new law will benefit employers, who have had to close businesses to comply with government measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
“This is an essential step in the management of COVID-19 and we appreciate the cooperation of the employers in preserving the safety of our people. We understand that employers must not bear the full costs of state unemployment benefits as a result of the state of emergency,” the governor added.
Act 54 establishes that, “in the employers’ accounts, which reflect their individual experience regarding unemployment (experience system), only half of the benefits paid to their workers will be reduced when they are based on claims filed as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the release explains. “This reduced benefit will apply equally to those employers who make payments to the Unemployment Insurance Fund through reimbursements. The reduced debit established by this Law will apply to the weeks of regular state benefits that are claimed for the effects of COVID-19” from March 15 to Dec. 26.
“This power of the secretary will be retroactive so that it applies to the weeks claimed after the declaration of emergency on March 12, 2020. I thank the legislators of the House and the Senate for having attended to this bill with the urgency that these times warrant,” the governor said.