By Jacob Nakamura
CNMI Secretary of Labor Vicky Benavente, whose agency has failed to disburse millions in federal unemployment aid to tens of thousands of CNMI residents, did not have time to hear residents's concerns at a town hall meeting, but did make time for a fishing derby the following day.
The House minority members two weeks ago invited Ms. Benavente and other Torres administration officials to attend and participate in a town hall meeting to address the public's questions and concerns on the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs. Neither Ms. Benavente nor her managers showed up as hundreds of residents expressed their frustrations and their struggles.
Instead the labor secretary issued a scathing news release, accusing minority leader Rep. Tina Sablan of political pandering. The news release states the Department of Labor "declined in order to prioritize the workload and processing of PUA claims. It is unfortunate that she did not publicly disclose that communication and chose to politically grandstand with her colleagues even after being educated about the PUA adjudication process as standardized by the US Department of Labor, as it is after all, a federal program.”
The House minority members scheduled the town hall for Wednesday, December 9, in consideration of the secretary's schedule. They wrote letters to Ms. Benavente, which she ignored until public criticism of her absence surfaced the night of the town hall meeting. The meeting happened between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. last Wednesday.
Despite Ms. Benavente's excuse that she could not attend "in order to prioritize the workload and processing of PUA claims," she had time Thursday morning to post on her personal Instagram feed that she was looking forward to participating in a fishing derby later that afternoon.
Perhaps the secretary brought her work with her to the derby. Maybe, since she claims she is too busy working on PUA and FPUC claims to listen to the needs of the claimants, she was sifting through the supposedly thousands of questioned claims on the fishing boat. It could have been that - as she was fishing - she was personally dictating responses to the hundreds of written complaints, or even addressing the fact that no one answers the phone at her agency.
But then again, doing all those things just don't jive well with beer: