Although the Department of Labor and Human Resources (DTRH) has made significant progress in processing applications for unemployment benefits and the COVID-19 pandemic unemployment assistance program (PUA) , the secretary Carlos Rivera Santiago was categorical that there is still a lot of work to be done, since tens of thousands of requests remain to be attended.
“We still have 25% of pending requests. So we do not sing victory. There is always room for improvement, and what we want is precisely that, to serve all citizens and help them ”said Rivera, speaking of the unemployment situation facing the Island as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the avalanche of claims that the DTRH has received.
As stated by the secretary, the volume of claims has been such from mid-March to this month, that it far exceeds what the agency processes on average for a whole year. He explained that, as of August 21, they had received 695,687 applications, of which 346,542 corresponded to unemployment benefits and 349,145 to the PUA program. In an average year, the DTRH processes between 47,000 and 48,000 claims.
Of that total of 695,687 requests, Rivera added, “we already have 530,780 of the requests receiving payments or benefits,” which is equivalent to more or less “75 % of the requests. ”
The agency's efforts are aimed at completing the processing of that remaining 25%, which would be 165,907 claims.
On the other hand, the secretary explained that the situation with the already famous“ controversial points "that delay the delivery of benefits to claimants.
" There are still many, over 55,000. It may be because the person answered something wrong; in other cases, which are the majority, they are situations in which the citizen owes documents that he has to show. For example, if you say that you were paid vacation money in the period you are claiming, you have to bring the checkbook to deduct that, "he indicated.
He recommended citizens who have controversial points to visit the official pages of the agency in the social networks Facebook and Twitter, where information on the documents necessary to resolve each controversial point is posted. The citizen can then submit these documents through the official DTRH website on the internet, which is the fastest and most recommended way, or by depositing them in one of the mailboxes installed in the regional offices or the DTRH headquarters building in Hato Rey.  Rivera explained that the process has been affected by a number of situations, from "problems with the systems, which is something that has been made public and has not been addressed for a long time," to thousands of fraudulent claims or people who were not entitled to receive benefits, or even the thousands of checks that are returned weekly to the DTRH by mail, due to problems with the addresses.
“We have situations of cases of public employees who have requested the PUA, when does not apply to them. We have another problem, which is that we are receiving over 2,000 checks a week back, because the citizen did not put the address correctly, or because it does not match the one used by the mail, and they return it, and then we have to coordinate to deliver the check personally " Rivera listed when referring to setbacks they have had to face.
In addition, he argued, they have received 82,661 applications from people who are ineligible to receive these benefits (75,831 for unemployment and 6,830 for PUA).
And there is also the incorrect claims situation or cases of fraud, many of which have already been stopped by the authorities.
“Right now, there are multiple investigations underway, with many cases detected. We have seen fraud, identity theft, people who complain and although they put their correct personal information, they omit data or put incorrect information for benefits, ”Rivera explained about those situations that, he added, consume time that could have been used to attend legitimate claims.  He also warned anyone who thinks that they may have circumvented the DTRH, that “all that is registered in our systems, and all that data is stored, and is easily traceable. So anyone who has done something wrong, they can call him now, or in a few months, or even years. ”
He clarified that the agency has already recovered“ over $ 7 million in money that people have returned, because it did not correspond to them. There are people arriving every day to return money that did not belong to them. ”
On the other hand, Rivera commented that they hope to speed up the processing of claims to the PUA with a virtual system that will be operational by September, and that will be connected to the information from the Department of the Treasury, through which the PUA request would be processed in an automated manner, and the claimant would receive the money by direct deposit in 24 to 48 hours.
Regarding the attention to the public, the secretary reiterated that It is not being done in person, in compliance with the recommendations to avoid contagion with COVID-19. However, he assured that they have put into effect a system to deal with pending claims, starting with the oldest claims.
“We are generating a shift, and we indicate to the citizen by a text (message), by email, or both, a day and the approximate time that we will contact them to attend to your case. In the last week and a half, 44,000 cases have been cited for the next day August. You are given the approximate day and time and an employee attends the case and that controversial point. That is the way we serve the public, "said Rivera.
There are citizens who have complained that they are not being served, despite their multiple efforts before the DTRH. This situation has generated unrest, protests and even this Monday there was an attempt by several citizens to break into the DTRH, which generated a riot that ended with several arrested by the police.
However, the secretary insisted that “no we have stopped working ”and that all pending claims would be dealt with as soon as possible.