Puerto Rico Labor Secretary: Unemployment Benefits Flowing
Department Issues Over $11 million in Benefit Payments
SAN JUAN — Amid growing criticism of the slow pace in processing unemployment claims, the secretary of Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor and Human Resources, Briseida Torres Reyes, announced Tuesday that the agency has paid more than $11 million in unemployment benefits since March 16, when the mandatory lockdown began.
Since the executive order was issued, forcing employers to send the majority of workers home as the main strategy to avoid the spread of Covid-19, the Unemployment Insurance Program has issued payments totaling $11,338,455.
“The effort that our employees are making is enormous
and making sure the money is reaching those who need it is a great
satisfaction. We know that there are people who are having some problems communicating or correcting certain errors and specific situations, but all cases are being addressed and we hope that the total of payments will continue to increase in the coming weeks,” Torres Reyes said in a press release.
This week marks one month since public and private employees were forced to “stay at home”; however, until this week, public employees continued to receive their paychecks whether their agency is operating or not.
The official noted that, since April 4, daily payments to unemployment beneficiaries increased tenfold.
“When the current situation began, the program issued, on average, between Monday and Thursday between $45,000 and $55,000 in payments. When compared to the week of April 6 to 9, the average payments were between $500,000 and $600,000 a day, which shows that a large number of claimants have begun to receive their benefits, and soon others will begin to receive them, too,” she said.
The secretary also highlighted that during the past three weeks, the agency’s staff has responded to more than 15,000 inquiries through the agency’s emails and social media.
“Our workers can be sure that their queries will be answered, even within the special circumstances that we all face and that pose an unprecedented challenge for each of us,” Torres Reyes concluded.
The secretary admitted last week in the TV show “Jugando Pelota Dura” (“Playing Hard Ball”) that her call center cannot handle the number of calls it is receiving.
“The number of calls we have received to make claims for unemployment benefits have been astronomical, so at this moment we are in the final stage of training the personnel who will be joining to support the Call Center and thus be able to provide the service with greater agility,” Torres Reyes said in a press release Monday.
The official also admitted that the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Labor for the self-employed to apply for unemployment benefits due to the pandemic are still not clear.
Torres Reyes reiterated her call to file initial unemployment claims using the agency’s website, www.trabajo.pr.gov. It is important that completing the application, people make sure it contains the correct information in order to receive the documents and notifications required to claim their benefits.
“Any error in the postal address or personal and work information can cause a delay in notifications, in addition to requiring the intervention of agency personnel to address the matter, which would take more time to evaluate the case,” the secretary said.