Monday, November 30, 2020

Labor Dept. Disburses $23 million from Lost Wages Assistance Program

By on November 20, 2020

Labor Secretary Carlos Rivera (Screen capture)

Secretary Makes Announcement on 2nd Round of Retroactive Funds During 5th Day of Transition Hearings

SAN JUAN — During the fifth day of the Puerto Rico government transition hearings, Labor Secretary Carlos Rivera announced that $23 million was recently disbursed as part of the second phase of the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) Program, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency funds through grants to make supplemental lost wages payments to those receiving unemployment insurance compensation.

“Close to 25,000 applicants that receive compensation under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) received a retroactive payment for the last three weeks corresponding to the special Lost Wages Assistance Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in which all participants that receive weekly compensation of $100 or more will be paid an additional $300 for a six week period,” Rivera said.

The funds will benefit PUA participants who have registered for direct deposit, and will start to see the money reflected in their bank accounts starting Monday. In addition, Rivera noted that claimants who receive their payments via check will also get them in the coming days. Moreover, the Labor chief explained that in the case of regular unemployment beneficiaries, according to federal provisions and regulations, these participants are currently in the LWA certification process to receive compensation as well. It is estimated that any participant who certifies their unemployed weeks before Monday and, who has registered for direct deposit, will receive their payment Friday, Nov. 27.

During his presentation to the incoming transition committee, Rivera acknowledged that the agency received an overwhelming, around 1,000 percent increase in unemployment application requests.

“The average number of active claims over a normal year is around 56,000,” Rivera said. “The Labor Department currently has some 550,871 active claims, of which 363,862 correspond to unemployment insurance and another 187,009 corresponding to PUA. In addition, some $6.4 billion has been disbursed to benefit unemployed and self-employed workers. It’s been an unprecedented activity for the department.”

Rivera stressed that in percentage terms the agency has addressed 89 percent of its active claims, with 11 percent remaining but in process. He further noted that much work remained to be done and that the agency continued its efforts to identify different alternatives to promptly address the outstanding claims. Regarding the PUA benefits, which end Dec. 26, Rivera said the Fast PUA website has been successful.

“The new platform, being integrated with the Treasury Department, validates merchant registrations and shares the income tax information, which resulted in a breakthrough when adjudicating cases with the most accurate information, which greatly prevents fraud,” Rivera said, adding that the department continues to investigate potential fraud and that its dedicated unit, along with with the task force created between federal and state authorities to identify potential schemes, began an educational campaign explaining eligibility requirements. 

“As a result of this team, the Labor Department has recovered nearly $56 million from returned PUA checks and regular unemployment checks by claimants who did not meet the requirements,” Rivera assured.