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Some 1,500 applications for $925,000 U.S. funding

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Dec. 14, 2009) – In American Samoa, more than 1,500 applications have been filed for the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program, but only a small number has been approved and Gov. Togiola Tulafono urges local residents to apply before the deadline this week.

American Samoa received a grant of US$925,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the DUA program. It is administered by the local Department of Human Resources (DHR).

Speaking on his weekend radio program, the Governor said the American Samoa Government pays 25 percent of the program while the federal government provides 75 percent. He again reminded listeners that the American Samoa Government cannot extend to everyone these benefits because of federal regulations that govern distribution and use of DUA funds.

As of Friday, Togiola said Human Resources received 1,537 DUA applications—203 approved already; 525 considered ineligible; and the rest are still being processed.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, the Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR) Evelyn Vaitautolu Langford said on Saturday that the DHR is still going through the process of reviewing and approving applications. (She is also the director of DHR.)

The GAR said that DHR is still waiting on word from the Department of Labor (DOL) on their interpretation of ‘permanent resident’ status for foreign workers in the territory, to see if others can qualify based on their immigration status.

Distribution of benefits will not start until the deadline is over, which is Dec. 17, and hopefully by then the immigration status for local workers will be clarified by DOL, said Langford.

Those eligible for the program are encouraged to apply by the deadline. The DUA program provides financial assistance to individuals whose employment or self-employment was lost or interrupted as a direct result of a major disaster declared by the U.S. President.

If you need more information about eligibility and other information, the DUA program is now housed at the Fagatogo Square building, Room 204. This office will continue to be open Monday through Saturday, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. until Dec. 17, 2009.

Beginning Dec. 18, the program will revert to regular hours from 7:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information contact the DUA program at 633-3460.

Togiola said on his radio program that 30 worksites have already been approved for the federal National Emergency Grant (NEG) program, which provides temporary employment to local residents for recovery and clean up efforts. He said 15 work sites are pending certification.

As of last Friday 1,309 applications have been received and 689 people have been hired for work, which can last up to six months. More people are expected to be hired this week, the Governor said.

Togiola said these temporary workers are getting their paychecks every two weeks during the government’s distribution of payroll.

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