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Woman denied COVID pandemic assistance considers court action

Taufoli Lisi
ALJ rules there is substantial evidence supporting her case

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Taufoli Lisi is taking her fight against the Department of Human Resources to the High Court, after her reconsideration application was denied for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

PUA assists and supports individuals who are unable to sustain employment as a result of COVID-19 enacted by the US Senate and Congress for aid, relief and economic security (CARES) Act.

The territory of American Samoa was among the recipients of this federal unemployment assistance in 2020.

The program concluded last year.

Lisi of Utulei told Samoa News she has been fighting for what she believes is her “entitlement” under the PUA program, given she her employment was affected as a result of COVID-19.

Her application to the Department of Human Resources was denied but she filed for an appeal.

According to the Administrative Law Judge ruling issued on August 26, 2022 between Lisi and ASG’S department of Human Resources; the tribunal held a formal hearing on July 23, 2021 at which the ASG motion to dismiss were heard.

 “Lisi appeared for the hearing pro se as did the assistant attorney general for the respondent. Evidence was taken and argument heard, on July 18, 2022 the tribunal issued a notice of extending the formal hearing to August 3, 2022; the extended hearing was held, which Lisi and the respondent’s counsel appeared” where documents were filed.

According to the documents, Lisi was not eligible for PUA benefits and the reason for Lisi’s ineligibility is shown as per employer discharge or suspension from work was not COVID-19 related.

The ALJ ruling says that Lisi filed an appeal in her case with the DHR.

 “A comparison of both appeal documents shows that persons aggrieved of an initial decision are given the choice of an appeal and or reconsideration.

 “Lisi’s testimony at the extended hearing was that she had checked (on her document) that she wanted the DHR to have the employer provide evidence of her separation from her former employment as a result of the misconduct so that she could have the opportunity to refute the employer’s purported facts and establish that her separation from employment was in fact COVID-19 related.”

Administrative Law Judge Marie Alailima ruled there is substantial evidence supporting a finding that the DHR has not undertaken any process yet to reconsider its decision denying petitioner PUA’s benefits.

 “The tribunal therefore finds this matter not ripe for a review on appeal unless and until such reconsideration decision has been made by the DHR.”

The ALJ also ruled to deny a motion filed by the government to dismiss the case citing the ALJ does not have jurisdiction.

 “To the contrary, Lisi’s appeal request was completed. The evident is substantial that DHR was served Lisi’s appeal within 10 days.”

The ALJ denied the government’s motion “in its entirety”.

To date, according Lisi the government has given her the “runaround on the state of her reconsideration” by the DHR.

She told Samoa News to date she is entitled to more than $30,000 of financial assistance from PUA, however the program closed last year.

Samoa News reached out to the Department of Human Resources Director, Lynn Pulou-Alaimalo for comments.

DHR Acting Chief for the Unemployment Division, Joseph Felise replied on behalf of the director, and declined to comment citing it’s “confidential information”.

 “I do apologize for not being able to provide any information in regards to your questions about Taufoli Lisi.

 “This is because our department is highly anticipated in securing confidential information of claimants and barred from sharing it,” he said.

Lisi told Samoa News her last resort is to file a lawsuit with the High Court. “I have been given the run around for a long time, so my last option will be to take to the High Court and the government will have to deal with the Judges of the High Court,” she said.