• The Star Staff

Labor secretary: Over $31 million in PUA checks have been returned

By The Star Staff

Labor and Human Resources Secretary Carlos Rivera Santiago said Monday that over $31 million in checks from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) that were wrongly disbursed, have been returned.

“The total amount that was collected last week was $6.3 million. The previous week it was $6.4 million,” Rivera Santiago said in a radio interview on WKAQ 580 AM.

Rivera Santiago stressed that PUA fraud schemes have also been detected in other jurisdictions in the United States, but no state has seen a massive refunding of money like in Puerto Rico.

“As of [Monday], $30,949,357 was returned by citizens in funds that they were not eligible for,” Rivera Santiago said.

“There are thousands” of people who have returned checks, the Labor chief said, adding that citizens have a window in which they can provide a letter explaining why they are returning the money.

If they cashed the check, they must return the sum in a money order, payable to the Secretary of the Treasury, Francisco Parés Alicea.

Rivera Santiago noted that there are government employees, minors and even prison inmates who have returned PUA checks.

“We get the checks and once they are here, we divide them into returned checks, money orders, and then we also divide them between government employees, minors and prison inmates,” he said. “We categorize them and count them.”

Asked about the specific number of people who have returned PUA checks, the official did not offer a number but noted that “there are thousands.”

“This leads us to see that at some point there was a large group of people who did not necessarily qualify for checks and were taking up space, and this delayed the process even more to be able to deal with claims,” Rivera Santiago said.

Regarding the reason most commonly given for returning the checks, the secretary said the majority indicate that they believe they do not qualify for the money or that they made a mistake when applying for the aid.

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