“Each weekly claim form is 5 pages long and 2021 had 36 weeks (Jan to Sept.), which means each person has to fill out weekly claims for all 36 weeks, totaling about 180 pages,” said Ms. Glendalyn Tau’o Ngirmeriil of the challenge with processing the 678 applications that were denied because they were deemed ineligible, incomplete or seasonal by previous management.
In addition to the 5-page weekly claim form, other forms also have to be filled, said WIOA Director Ngirmeriil. “The staff has to go through each weekly claim and double-check every single line. That’s 180 pages per person that have to be reviewed carefully by our staff. If the client made a mistake, we have to call them to come in and correct it. We can’t correct it for them. If they are out of airtime or not home, we can’t just put it aside. We must contact them.”
Another challenge cited by Ms. Ngirmeriil is the documentation required by US federal government that goes with claims. For seasonal workers, for example, a lady that sells her “makit” may do so at different stores. She has to prove how much she made before covid and how she made after covid. “These are hard to get documents because most of these folks don’t pay taxes so getting the support document needed makes it difficult for most of the PUA applicants.
“Federal law requires that each person who is denied either due to ineligibility or any other reason must receive the letter of determination. This tells the person why they were denied or had their benefits cut. An important part of this letter is the appeal notice that enables any rejected applicant to file an appeal. This is an issue of great importance to the US government. Many of the applicants that were denied or had incomplete applications were not given this important notice.”
“Good news is, so far out of the 678 applications, only 20 have been denied. Work to review applications is still ongoing but this is good news that many are still eligible”, added Ngermeriil.
“Our budget has also just been approved so I am in the process of hiring 3 more people and we hope this can also help expedite the work. I’m just worried that with this covid after I hire that they will get sick and we will be back to the slower pace. Anyways, we are working on getting more people on board,” Ngirmeriil said.
On the status of Social Security refunds, Ms. Ngirmeriil said work is ongoing on this as well.
“We have to go through each of the 1,400 former beneficiaries, looking at each of their issued checks beginning the month of July 2020 to March 2021, and input the salary into our formula to determine if the person was overpaid or underpaid. Some also received their reimbursement and so WIOA has to review each weekly claim.”
Ms. Ngirmeriil said they have the money to pay for all of these but the process is taking longer due to the amount of paperwork involved. She assured that they still have the $18 million but they need to make sure they people receive their money back.
The 1,400 beneficiaries that were receiving PUA until September 4, 2021, have all been paid their claims. Only the pending applications that were denied or set aside are being reviewed by WIOA. Lastly, the social security reimbursement will start for some next week but it will take time due to the sheer number of paperwork involved.
Meanwhile, an audit of WIOA by the Palau Public Auditor is ongoing. WIOA’s former managers were removed in 2021 due to claims of fraud but so far, OPA is still investigating WIOA and no formal allegations have been lodged in court.