During the past week alone, the Department of Labor received $ 756,319 in returned payments from public employees who had received the PUA benefit. (Archive)
Hundreds of public employees have returned over a million dollars they received from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA).
The sum of returns to the Department of Labor and Human Resources (DTRH) increased last week at a time when about 60% of the people who received the benefit while they were on the government payroll have been confirmed.
Meanwhile, the Office of Government Ethics (OEG) confirmed that it has received four referrals from public entities for investigation in relation to the PUA.
Between Monday and Friday of last week, the DTRH received from public employees a total of $ 102,243 in returned checks from the PUA that were not cashed, reported the secretary of the agency, Carlos Rivera Santiago.
He added that in that same time period they received $ 654,076 in money orders or manager's checks to return money from payments that had already been cashed.
Both amounts add up to $ 756,319 between September 28 and October 2, and that are added to the $ 847,379 that DTRH received in the previous week, from September 21 to 25, for a total of $ 1,603,698.
So far, Rivera Santiago estimates the number of public employees who have returned payments based on the estimates of payments received at “hundreds”, but explained that the exact amount will be known when the audits are completed and identities are confirmed, since some may have returned more than one PUA payment or may be paying off a single disbursement obtained in installments.
By last month, the DTRH had compiled over 10,000 names of public employees who may have applied for the PUA benefit, but the number has been reduced in the past weeks as each agency checked the lists to see if those people were still in. your template.
“They are arriving little by little, by filtration, as they come to us from different municipalities and agencies. I would say that we are 60% of the information, ”Rivera Santiago told El Nuevo Día.
He added that “we still do not have it (the final total) because there are still agencies and municipalities to corroborate this information. They have to certify that they are active, that they have not resigned or that they are not transitory and that these appointments have expired ”.
One of the agencies that completed the process was the Department of Public Safety (DSP), which is in charge of the criminal investigation of PUA cases.
When Rivera Santiago was asked the number of police officers who requested the PUA, he indicated that he “did not want to go into detail. I'd rather you ask the police. I understand that they are the ones who can go into that detail about their personnel ”.
“It can be said that there are dozens (of police),” said the official.
For its part, the DSP also did not disclose the number of employees of that umbrella agency who received the PUA. Secretary Pedro Janer told the press that the list had already been delivered and that the figure could be requested.
El Nuevo Día asked for the number today, but the agency did not provide it, claiming in written statements that “due to ongoing investigations, we cannot provide additional information on this matter.”
The written communication was limited to noting that most of the names on the list sent by DTRH are no longer working for the agency.
“Of the cases received that could be related to the Department of Public Security and its Bureaus, more than 50 percent were discarded because, of the people who appear on the list of employees, a large part of these people are separated from their positions prior to the month of March, when the COVID-19 pandemic began ”, indicated the DSP.
Escalera also said that he was waiting for final confirmation from DTRH to begin any administrative investigation process within the Police.
“We already informed them”, Rijo Rivera Santiago. “Obviously, I assume that as has happened in other agencies or municipalities, they are going to request some additional evidence for them to have in their files, but they had already been told that the list that had been sent to them was of people who appear in our database. of data benefits ”.
“Each agency head will be responsible for making a determination whether what the employee did violates administrative rules or whether or not they apply disciplinary measures,” he added.
For his part, the director of the OEG, Luis Pérez Vargas, indicated that so far he has received four referrals from public entities.
However, it did not detail whether they responded to referrals from central government agencies or municipalities, “so as not to put anyone on notice.”
He explained that the role of the OEG in this case is to investigate if the PUA requests by public employees were made using government resources or if the request was made during working hours, which are the requirements to initiate a prosecution by the Law of Government Ethics.
Regarding those who have received, however, he stated that the process has not been as fast because at the moment the priority of the resources in the DTRH is to assist in the criminal investigations that are underway by the state and federal authorities.
“There are entities that have referred us and we, obviously, have started the process with the (referrals) who have arrived,” said Pérez Vargas.
But he emphasized that “the administrative process (carried out by the OEG) yields to the criminal, due to the haste it requires,” said Pérez Vargas.
“We need to corroborate with the DTRH the time and other details of those requests made by those public employees, but these efforts are currently addressing the criminal. Then we will be looking at the administrative part that corresponds to us. That has been in agreement with the DTRH itself ”, he added.
In any case, Pérez Vargas agreed with the head of the DTRH in the sense that public entities do not need to wait for OEG to take disciplinary action.
“It is the responsibility of each agency head or municipal executive to take action if a violation is evidenced (by DTRH). It is up to them to assess whether that action by their employee violated the regulation by lying offering false information about that employer, ”said Pérez Vargas, giving the example of whether a person did not say that he was an employee of that public agency when requesting the PUA.
“That is the first action they must take in this unfortunate scandal, but it has gone largely unnoticed,” he added.
The $ 756,319 returned by public employees are part of the $ 6,346,303 returned by citizens to DTRH last week in PUA funds, bringing the total recovered by the agency to $ 30,949,357 in the past few months.
Of that total, last week they received back $ 32,964 in payments received by minors and $ 20,788 in payments issued on behalf of people who are confined in the country's prisons.
“I remember that they asked me if we reached $ 50 million (recovered), but I didn't dare say it. I thought that perhaps we would reach $ 20 million, but if this constant continues, I think we will exceed $ 40 million, ”said Rivera Santiago.