Labor Dept., 17 towns sign pact to facilitate unemployment payments
By The Star Staff
Labor and Human Resources Secretary Carlos J. Rivera Santiago said Sunday his agency has signed collaborative agreements with 17 municipalities to streamline the paperwork processes for the payment of unemployment benefits to the thousands of individuals who have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Several municipalities out of the 78 in Puerto Rico will join the initiative in the coming weeks as the agency also intends to broaden the services contained in the original agreement with island mayors. The 17 collaborative agreements are currently in force with the municipalities of Aguadilla, Camuy, Canóvanas, Gurabo, Jayuya, Juncos, San Sebastián, Toa Baja, Vega Baja, Cayey, Coamo, Las Marías, Ponce, Hatillo, Caguas, Barceloneta and Villalba. The municipalities of Morovis and Yabucoa are about to sign agreements, while Arecibo and Guaynabo have shown interest in joining the initiative.
Rivera Santiago said that following the impact of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant hike in unemployment claims at the agency, the collaborative agreements with the municipalities have served as a strategy to streamline the processing of unemployment benefits.
“As requested by Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, by speeding up the processes and services offered by the Labor Department during this emergency, the agency is in the process of signing a first amendment to the agreement that will allow the expansion of the provision of services to include processing regular unemployment claims and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC),” Rivera Santiago announced. “In this way the participating municipalities can provide support to the Employment Security Bureau in the processing of all kinds of unemployment applications, thus streamlining the process so that citizens can receive benefits quickly and efficiently.”
Under the agreement, municipalities provide a minimum of two municipal employees to provide services such as: receiving and/or making calls to claimants, filling out the forms that are necessary for the processing of requests or claims according to the information provided by the claimant, requesting missing documents or information to process the claim, entering the information in the digital platform created for it, and resolving disputes. The municipalities enable the workplace for their employees, and provide the necessary equipment for rendering their services as well as the initial payment of their employees’ payroll. The Labor Department reimburses municipalities for payroll expenses for hours spent providing services under the agreement. Furthermore, due to the sensitive nature of the information received and exchanged with claimants, the agreement contains a confidentiality clause to protect claimants’ information.
The agreements will be in force until Dec. 31, or until the need for the service ends, whichever comes first.