Workers Investment Opportunity Act (WIOA) Director Josephine Ulengchong vehemently denied any wrongdoing in the implementation of the Pandemic
Unemployment Assistance program under the US CARES Act, during her presentation of the program in this week’s press conference.
“No money has disappeared or gone missing from this program,” asserted Ms. Ulengchong to allegations that money from WIOA program has been misused or gone missing, which were expressed during a radio talk show last week. “We do not sign any checks, only Board members… I provide weekly and quarterly reports on how much was spent, who received the money, and who were self-employed to the United States. If funds disappear from this program, we will be held liable, arrested and taken by FBI to jail in the US!”
As WIOA gears up to administer the second funding assistance under the Continued Assistance Act 2021, heated discussions arose from former recipients of the program and others who feel that the disbursement of funds through WIOA has not been fair or transparent.
A radio talk show held last week on Palau Wave Radio hosted individuals who believed that they have been mistreated or barred from the program unfairly. In the show, allegations were made that certain people received a lot of money from WIOA which they were not entitled to receive.
Questions raised include why some people who were eligible to receive assistance before are no longer eligible even though they are still unemployed, and why some people whose hours were reduced were eligible and now are no longer eligible. Others questioned why the Palau government does not “convince” the United States to make exceptions to Palau under this assistance.
At this week’s press conference, Director Ulengchong accompanied by WIOA Chairman Matthew Rudimch responded by saying that the US Department of Labor has determined that only those people who were laid off due to company closure are eligible for assistance. People who were laid off but the companies they worked for are still open or have re-opened are not eligible. People whose work hours were reduced are also no longer eligible for the assistance under the CARES Act and the Continued Assistance Act.
“Those people who were laid off but companies were still open or worked on reduced hours should not have received the assistance,” said Director Ulengchong, based on the legal interpretation of US Department of Labor.
Ulengchong did report that US DOL legal opinion stated that income tax and other deductions from this assistance should not have been deducted. She said that those who received assistance before and were eligible under the current definitions will get the money which was deducted from their benefits returned back to them.
She explained that benefits amounts are the same for everyone who is eligible. The only two factors that may change the amount received are the length of time covered by the claims and the deductions of SS and Pension benefits if the employee is already receiving those benefits.
President Surangel Whipps Jr. said that the CROSS will absorb those people who were no longer eligible under the WIOA assistance. They will need to apply for CROSS Act assistance if they want to avail of it.
Whipps added that assistance provided under WIOA is US assistance to Palau and follows US laws. “What we can do is ask them to waive those funds that were disbursed to ineligible people so they don’t come after them.” He assured that the program is being audited by Palau’s Office of Public Auditor as well as OIG.
Funds approved for the second assistance under the Continued Assistance Act of 2021 administered by WIOA is $4 million dollars and this covers January to March 14.