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DHR now processing unemployment payments for American Samoa

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Through a May 27th executive order, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said American Samoa would adopt a Hawaii unemployment law allowing local residents whose jobs were impacted by the coronavirus to receive unemployment financial assistance under provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga announced last Friday that the US Department of Labor (USDOL) has approved American Samoa’s application under the Employment & Training Administration — awarding $16.26 million through the CARES Act of 2020 to administer the Unemployment Insurance programs for American Samoa.

The governor last Thursday signed an Executive Order to administer the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) programs for the Territory’s workforce that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Samoa News received information early this month that the ASG Human Resources Department will administer the PUA and FPUC. And that DHR was already in the process of formulating guidelines for administering the program. Two workers, who lost their jobs due to current local COVID-19 restrictions, told Samoa News on Monday that DHR is already processing applications for these federal unemployment benefit programs.

The governor’s May 27th executive order noted that the federal government has made available funds to assist American Samoa workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the USDOL “has issued a legal opinion” that ASG “is bound by the Hawaii employment security law in implementing its” PUA and FPUC programs.

“In order to administer the PUA and FPUC programs in accordance with the terms set by the federal government,” DHR is ordered to adopt the Hawaii Employment Security Law, as applicable, according to the executive order, which also states that this Hawaii law shall be binding on DHR for implementation and administration of these vital programs.

Responding to Samoa News follow-up questions, the governor’s executive assistant, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said yesterday that DHR would soon published guidelines providing details on how to apply for the PUA and  FPUC programs. And this information should be available before the end of the week.

“At this point the most important eligibility requirement is you have to be a U.S. Citizen, US National, or Permanent Resident,” he explained. “Other immigrant categories will not qualify for the program. This is not our requirement but that of the federal government per the Congressional Law which authorized these two programs.”

Many local workers who jobs were impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions in the territory have been asking when the USDOL programs will be available to them, especially those who lost their jobs — such workers in the airline and hospitality industries — as well as workers faced with reduced working hours.