Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Puerto Rico Labor Dept.: $727M in jobless benefits paid out since April 1

By on May 27, 2020

Labor Secretary Briseida Torres Reyes (Screen capture of www.facebook.com/SenadoDePuertoRico)

Labor chief says $169.9 million in PUA payments sent out since last week

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Labor & Human Resources Department (PRLHD) has paid out close to $727 million in unemployment benefits to more than 212,000 beneficiaries since April 1, Puerto Rico Labor & Human Resources Department (PRLHD) Secretary Briseida Torres Reyes said Tuesday.

Torres said the regular Unemployment Insurance Program has disbursed $569 million in the past two months, including federal supplementary payments under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (Cares) Act. This breaks down to $132 million in local unemployment benefits and $437 million in federally supplemented payments, she said, noting that 160,707 people were receiving regular unemployment insurance benefits as of May 22.

Another $157 million in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payments have been made since the federal program was implemented locally April 28, including payments that were made retroactively to April 4, the official said. This includes $20.6 million in weekly PUA benefit payments, and $136.4 million in supplementary payments of $600 per week, she said.

PUA also provides additional unemployment compensation to people who do not qualify for regular unemployment because they are self-employed, are contractors, homecare professionals, or have exhausted regular unemployment benefits amid the novel coronavirus epidemic. The program provides a supplemental weekly compensation of $600 for four months.

Early last week, Torres reached an agreement with transaction processor Evertec Inc. to integrate the PUA platform with the agency’s Automated Benefits System (Saben by its Spanish acronym) to eliminate platform breakdowns that had been holding up thousands of unemployment claims filed in the wake of the Covid-19 epidemic. The move has apparently led to a speed up of such payments to beneficiaries.

Since May 21, the agency has issued more than 55,000 checks totaling $169.9 million in unemployment benefit payments under PUA, which include retroactive payments, Torres said, adding that these payments could average between $2,500 and $3,000 for accumulated weeks since April 4.

Torres said the supplementary federal aid is directly linked to the eligibility for unemployment benefits through any of the agency’s programs, including regular unemployment, PUA or Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA).

“This aid is available for any person that is receiving unemployment benefits, but requires the confirmation of eligibility for the corresponding periods,” she said in a statement.

Currently, PRLHD is issuing unemployment benefits payments to at least 212,630 people in the various programs managed by the agency, Torres said, noting that the agency received 218,277 eligible unemployment claims as of May 19.

Jobless claims continue to climb

Meanwhile, the number of initial unemployment claims in Puerto Rico numbered 15,067 for the week ending May 9, while the number of continuing claims climbed to 164,034 for the week ending May 2, according to the latest U.S. Department of Labor statistics. The continuing claims constitute 19.2 percent of the 856,124 jobs covered by unemployment insurance locally.

Initial jobless claims are how many new people file for unemployment benefits in a week, while continuing claims measure the number of workers on unemployment.

While the number of initial jobless claims has slowed since reaching a high of 66,555 the week ending April 11, the latest figure is well above the 1,172 initial claims made on the week ending March 14, just before Gov. Wanda Vázquez implemented the curfew/lockdown executive order to curb the spread of the potentially deadly Covid-19 virus. Continuing claims numbered 15,239 the week ending March 14.

Before the crisis prompted by the novel coronavirus, the previous high mark in initial unemployment claims was 8,281 during the week ending Nov. 4, 2017, while the previous high for continuing claims was 53,727 the week ending Dec. 2, 2017, or 6.14 percent of the 874,530 jobs covered by unemployment insurance at the time. These figures correspond to the period right after hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the island.

The highest continuing claims figure before that was reached during the week ending July 18, 2009, when continuing claims totaled 78,415, or 8 percent of the 985,326 jobs covered by unemployment insurance. At the time, the island’s economy had worsened due to the Great Recession prompted by the 2008 financial crisis while then-Gov. Luis Fortuño was implementing austerity measures involving public employee layoffs.

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