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State of the Commonwealth Address 2014

Editor’s Note: The following is the complete text of the State of the Commonwealth Address that Gov. Eloy S. Inos delivered on June 30, 2014, at 9am, at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center.

A very warm hafa adai, tirow wóómi and good morning:

Before beginning with my remarks, please join me in a moment of silence to honor our fallen heroes who unselfishly defended our freedom with their lives, and our friends, family members, and neighbors who have gone to their eternal rest.

Standing before you today, I am humbled and honored to report on the State of our Commonwealth.

More than 16 months ago, I made a pledge to do everything possible to help all of you. To paraphrase President Obama: “To those whose support I have yet to earn, I hear your voices. I need your help. And I am your Governor, too.”

When I assumed the office of Governor, people were questioning government integrity, doubting its honesty, and criticizing its lack of transparency. And so in order for my administration to move forward, it was important that our people could trust in their governor and their government.

COLLABORATION IN GOVERNMENT

In the first few weeks of my administration, I took the necessary steps to begin the process of addressing the problems we were facing. I could not do this alone and I reached out immediately to Congressman Kilili and our Legislature to help tackle the hurdles that stood before us.

The meetings were fruitful. The ideas that we shared have been great, our bond cohesive, and the optimism we all have, strong.

Today, I’m proud to share with each and every one of you that the State of our Commonwealth is once again experiencing true collaboration between the Executive and Legislative Branches as well as with our U.S. Congressional Delegate. This partnership, and with the people standing by our side, has resulted in the Commonwealth experiencing exponential growth.

To our Delegate Kilili Sablan and my friends in the Legislature, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks for your support and most importantly, for your willingness to work together for the betterment of the CNMI and its people.

There have been times over the last few years where hard decisions had to be made in order to preserve the structural integrity of our financial house. The choices that were made were not easy and affected every citizen of our great Commonwealth. We witnessed times where the government checking account was close to being overdrawn and our obligations to the people in jeopardy.

I am happy to report that our economy is recovering and, while there are still so many challenges ahead, the future is providing us with many more opportunities to continue growing.

I am proud and so thankful for the efforts put forward by my administration and the legislature that have resulted in this growth.

As a result of the settlement agreement, we shrunk the General Fund Deficit from $300 million to $70 million.

We have grown our annual appropriations from a low of $102 million to the current level of $135 million. This growth has allowed us to improve the services your government provides to the people.

I want to thank our Delegate Sablan, for together we have been successful in passing a submerged lands bill, securing an extension of the CW visa program, and experienced renewed assistance from the Federal government in helping secure additional federal resources.

NEW REVENUES & COST-SAVINGS

One of the greatest challenges was the economic stress our islands were facing due to global trends. I knew that in order to stay afloat, we must find ways to generate more revenue and eliminate unnecessary spending, while ensuring that core government services suffered minimal impact.

Our FY 2015 budget includes the necessary resources to run government operations effectively by allocating $27 million or 20 percent to meet the mandates of the settlement agreement for continued pension payments of the active retirees. $38 million has been allocated to fund the education needs of our commonwealth — with 24 percent going towards PSS, 3 percent to NMC, 1 percent to the education assistance program; and 48 percent for the operations and activities of the general government including the Judiciary and Legislative Branches. In addition, $338 thousand was also included to return outstanding shares of credit union members, the rightful owners, who do not have any outstanding loans with that entity.

As Governor, I’ve taken steps to consolidate government resources without having to incur additional expenses that will put us into deeper recession.

Our departments are closely monitoring their electrical consumption and getting rid of unnecessary expenses in an effort to run an effective ship. We have decentralized utilities allocation back to the respective departments, making them accountable for their energy consumption. Some departments have also taken the initiative in applying for, and obtaining grants which have saved the central government millions of dollars. I have seen their efforts of helping us save money, and I applaud them for it.

Through executive orders and legislation, I merged eight different government departments/agencies into 4 major departments to enhance their effectiveness and eliminate duplication of services. Additionally, we took the initiative to properly place divisions within appropriate departments to ensure a more streamlined government.

Those departments were:

- The Office of Homeland Security & the Emergency Management Office;

- The Division of Environmental Quality & Coastal Resources Management;

- The Workforce Investment Agency under the Department of Labor;

- The Division of Sports and Recreation is now under the Northern Marianas Sports Association.

In the FY2015 budget, we are consolidating resources between the Department of Public Works Roads and Grounds into the Department of Lands and Natural Resources Parks and Recreation.

Despite those changes, public services remained uninterrupted and no staff was compromised by the reorganization.

We will continue to curtail or eliminate non essential spending, reduce overtime, and examine programs and services to determine whether operational redundancy warrants elimination. We must collectively work together to be accountable by encouraging competitive solicitations for every penny we anticipate to spend with public funds. We must continue to add value to the changes we’ve made that’s working for us and continue to deliver the basic necessities of the public without demand.

With all of this going on however, we know that the mountain of economic prosperity is one that is hard to conquer. But we have stood at its peak before, and I’m confident that with the support of the legislature, we can stimulate growth utilizing fresh ideas and cooperation. I assure you that united, we are stronger and the challenges easier to overcome.

TOURISM & AN INVESTOR-FRIENDLY CNMI

One of the many positives we have is the renewed interest the CNMI is experiencing from investors and business owners here and around the world. New businesses have opened doors, new investors have taken over existing businesses, and existing businesses have also shown signs of growth and expansion.

We have issued a little over 800 new business licenses in the past year and a half alone, while at the same time the CNMI’s bankruptcy rate is the least per capita in the nation.

Just a short time ago, and due primarily to global issues out of our control, our tourism industry was on the brink of collapse.

However now we are seeing a significant rebound with more tourist arrivals peaking at figures we have not seen for several years. And from data that Perry Tenorio and the good people of MVA have given me, total visitor arrivals are expected to reach 472,000 this year, which is close to 9 percent increase from last year. We are experiencing a third straight year of growth. More importantly we are projecting $1.267 BILLION in economic activity. Let me say that again…$1.267 BILLION! which is an increase of $200 million from last year. That’s what making it happen is all about.

In just a few short years, we have gone from having too many empty rooms to a period where we don’t have enough rooms. While this may seem like a good problem, in the long run, if we are to capitalize on the increased demand to the CNMI we must increase room capacity and proactively encourage investment in the CNMI.

Currently we have approximately 3,400 hotel rooms on Saipan, Tinian and Rota. With the Hotel Association of Northern Mariana Island reporting occupancy over 85 percent on average this year, we are encouraged by investors like the E-Land Group, who are rebranding the former Palms resort as a Sheraton hotel. The same company is taking bold steps to continue its renovation of the Coral Ocean Point and build additional rooms. Their effort will allow us to bring more tourists, from Asia and beyond. Let me take this opportunity to express the CNMI’s appreciation to our travel partners locally and abroad for making tourism work for our community. We would also like to acknowledge and thank the existing resorts and boutique hotels like Hafa Adai, Hyatt, and Marianas Resort, for their continued support of our tourism industry.

MVA has also had help with very instrumental partners in further enhancing our islands’ beauty. My special thanks to the Parks and Recreation Division and civic groups for their part in keeping our islands clean. I thank you for reinforcing the fact that, “Tourism is Everybody’s Business” through your diligence and commitment.

Tourism will always be an important industry, but it cannot be our sole economic driver. We must expand our economic base. And with the help of the legislature and the people, we will leave no stone unturned in attracting new industries and employment opportunities for our people.

With all due respect to the lawyers in attendance — WE CANNOT SUE OUR WAY TO PROSPERITY! We must be proactive and seek out potential new investors.

Likewise, new industries and businesses won’t cure all of our problems — we must recognize and promote the growth of our long-term businesses. We must thank the efforts of long-term and locally owned businesses like Joeten Enterprises and its group of companies, Herman’s Modern Bakery, Triple J, Tan Holdings, and many more — combined these businesses have employed thousands of our citizens for decades. They have contributed so much to our community and are so valuable to our future success. Their dedication to our people deserves our thanks and support. Please join me in a round of applause for them.

I am very happy to report that the new CNMI Public Market will be opening soon. This will be a new avenue for our farmers and ranchers to profit from the work of their hands. It’s also our way to show them appreciation for keeping us nourished and healthy.

During the Marianas Governors’ Summit last September, Guam Governor Eddie Calvo and I discussed trade barriers and the need to update cattle import and export requirements for the CNMI and Guam.

For over 3 years, the CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources worked with the Guam Department of Agriculture to propose amendments to phase out entry requirements and conditions that are no longer considered essential, are overly restrictive, or are not performing their intended purpose. These amendments are important to advance livestock production and will be beneficial to both CNMI and Guam farmers and ranchers.

Moreover, I am extremely pleased the Guam Legislature passed Bill No. 297-32 and was signed into law by Guam’s Lt. Governor Ray Tenorio. This law opens the door for our ranchers to export their cattle to Guam.

RETIREMENT FUND

There is no more profound group than our retirees. It is through their dedication to the people and the hard work they have contributed that we stand here today. They instilled in us our values and we have no greater obligation than to ensuring that they receive everything they deserve in return. They aren’t just former colleagues, they are parents, grand and great-grandparents who deserve the money they toiled so hard to set them up for their twilight years.

The solvency of the Retirement Fund has been extremely touchy. I have done and will continue to do everything possible to ensure that this situation is resolved. We still have a long way to go, but a solution has been identified and we are hopeful that we will be able to honor our obligations as quickly as possible.

Concurrently, we are tirelessly working to keep the fund running and your pension given to you despite the cuts taken to pay back the expenses incurred. We are still keeping current on those payments. Our Attorney General and the Settlement Fund have assisted us in making sure that we don’t default on our obligations. I know that life’s been tough and for that, I am sorry, but I promise you that the solution will help make things better.

Recently I was told the story of a good friend of mine. A colleague, who worked as an accountant for the government for over 20 years. For the longest time, she wanted to get a new vehicle to replace the one she’s been driving for over a decade. Because of the cut in her pension, the bank couldn’t give her a loan to get a new car. It not only angers me to hear that, but it saddens me to know that someone who worked so hard for us is unable to secure the funds she needs.

Her story isn’t unique, some retirees have similar experiences. The legislature and I recognize this burden, and we will work arduously to alleviate that load from your shoulders. And it is with firm conviction, that I tell all of our retirees that I have and will continue to advocate for revenues that will get your 25 percent pension cut back to you and not have to worry about your money again. Additionally, we are strong in our commitment to pay the interest owed to the former defined benefit members.

I am deeply saddened that recent developments and the objection of several citizens have veered our efforts to restore your pension into litigation. At the moment, we must await the decision of the Courts before we can have a concrete date to put your money back in your pockets. Work is still being done my friends, all I ask for is your patience. No matter how many people try to stop this effort, I will keep fighting to give you your money back.

CW PROGRAM EXTENSION

I am grateful that Secretary Thomas Perez granted the extension for the CW program until 2019. This is an issue that I, along with Congressman Kilili Sablan, have adamantly pushed for because of the need to train our locals to take the jobs that will be left when our guest workers leave. We have an obligation to every citizen to help provide them with the education and tools needed to secure a job that provides a stable income. We know everyone wants a good job but they also deserve a job that fulfills them and allows them the opportunity to enjoy life without the stress of living paycheck to paycheck.

Who better to service our island in the future than the ones who call it home? The ones who were born here, and whose children will call this place home. We need to foster a generation of workers, people with skill, drive, and passion. This may seem like a dramatic scenario for some employers, but I see it as an opportunity to build the CNMI of tomorrow with the hands we’re guiding today. It is through job growth that our people can get themselves and our government out of a financial rut.

Our Department of Labor, through WIA, has been diligent in making sure that the opportunity for our people to find employment is available and consistent. OVR has done so as well, and so has our Department of Commerce. Through their efforts in developing small businesses, they have created 24 new jobs in the past year. People who thought they couldn’t hold down a job because of limited skills and fear of discrimination are now finding the necessary training they need to live independently.

I have directed the Labor Secretary Edith DeLeon Guerrero to work in conjunction with the Public School System, the Northern Marianas College, and other training institutions to develop plans and programs aimed at establishing the citizen workforce we need to fill the labor pool when the extended CW program expires.

I ask the private sector to join me in this effort so that we will not be faced with the same predicament five years from today.

MILITARY BUILDUP

We just completed the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of our island’s D-Day. Our people came together and honored the men who selflessly served our nation to end a war, which in turn, led to the path of liberation for our people. That act forged a bond with the military and our people that still stands today, with the many sons and daughters of the CNMI who fought and died for our freedom in hostile conflicts the world over. Most recently, in Afghanistan where 16 of our very own sons and daughters served under the Guam Army National Guard and came back safe and sound after a year away.

With respect to the MILITARY plans for the Northern Mariana Islands, It has been my policy and it shall continue to guide the Northern Marianas to a well-balanced and properly-thought out course of action with respect to the growth of military activities in the CNMI.

As a result of a change in focus from the Atlantic to Pacific theater, the U.S. Military would like to create in or change the CNMI into what would be one of the world’s largest military training bases covering land, sea and air.

I believe as your Governor, these proposed changes are happening too fast. I believe that we must carefully weigh and consider the proposed military activities planned to take place in our islands. How these activities will affect our future and our childrens future are paramount — we owe it to the people to try to control and influence the military so that whatever is done protects our country while at the same time protects our interests and livelihood.

One of the urgent decisions to be made is the U.S. Air Force’s plan to establish at the Saipan International Airport a location for a divert airfield in the event of an emergency, natural disaster, or humanitarian operation should Andersen Air Force Base in Guam become unavailable.

In short and for a variety of reasons — I strongly believe it is in the best long-term interest of the CNMI that this divert airfield be located on Tinian and not on the island of Saipan.

Historically and from an overall fairness perspective — when the CNMI negotiated its Commonwealth political status with the United States, we agreed to lease two-thirds of Tinian to the US Military — we did so on the understanding that the US Military was going to locate a joint-use military base on Tinian.

Obviously, that has never happened and the Tinian economy has suffered waiting all these years for the promised economic benefits that would result from the establishment of a military base.

Some members of our community see these military development plans as economic opportunity. Other members of our community believe the plan of the US military to acquire more property in the CNMI is a violation of the terms of the Covenant Agreement.

As your Governor – I must balance our duties and responsibilities to our country and the potentially positive opportunities that a expanded military presence here would create versus the cost of our quality of life, or our environment, our peace and quiet, or our culture.

CHC

The issue of affordable and convenient Health Care is a constant struggle here in the CNMI. I am outraged that our citizens are forced to go off-island for treatment or skip getting treated at all.

I was appalled when I learned about the air-conditioning problem and while I understand that the central system wasn’t going to be an easy fix, something had to be done. My administration worked tirelessly to identify and redirect resources necessary to fix the system. As a result, a $4 million contract was awarded to begin immediate repair of the air conditioning system. I can assure you that while I understand this project will take some time, I will not let a day pass without putting pressure on the contractors to finish the job as quickly as possible.

I understand that this isn’t the only problem we have at the CHC and I am confident that with the help of the legislature, we will find solutions for every issue and address them quickly. On some positive notes however, the corporation has given big assistance for those who may find it hard to go to the hospital. Just last year, we opened the Kagman Community Health Center, and since then, the community has embraced it with open arms and has continued to keep it busy. The response this facility has gotten truly shows CHCC’s commitment to providing our community the best healthcare possible.

The Center for Medicaid Services is the biggest funder for the CHCC and it is crucial that our healthcare system continue its fruitful partnership with them. CHCC was issued a series of citations by CMS and is addressing those deficiencies. Recently, the CMS gave CHCC additional time to correct the remaining issues and we are confident that all of them will be completed in a short time.

I would also like to thank the 3rd Senatorial delegation for funding my request of $250,000 which will allow for the purchase of new hospital beds. The current beds have been there since the hospital opened and it is unacceptable that patients continue to endure additional discomfort during their stays at the hospital.

CUC & Public Infrastructure

Just a few short years ago, our island suffered through continual blackouts and power failures. While I know we are not out of the woods yet, we are making progress.

I am extremely pleased with the performance of the new board and its Chairman, as well as leadership changes within the CUC. We must and will continue to address the high cost of fuel as well as identify new sources of energy, which our community utility is currently working on with grants on tap to assess geothermal energy’s feasibility in the Commonwealth.

They have also kept an eye on maintaining essential resources with the completion of their new Maintenance & Repair Facility. With it, we can be assured that when the next big storm comes, the boys on the trucks can rely on their equipment to help get those services you need carried out.

I am pleased to report that a contract will be entered into that will provide up to 10 megawatts of solar energy. At the same time, we must start planning on retiring the 30-year old engines with newer, more cost-efficient equipment.

It is imperative that the CUC demonstrate compassion to its customers that are struggling to keep current on their obligations to the CUC — I will continue to work with CUC and its leadership to ensure that every concern is addressed in a compassionate manner.

I am proud of the work completed to date by the Water Task Force. Currently, 90 percent of our citizens have 24-hour water services, with just a few lateral connections pending to be resolved. This is an 80 percent increase from just 2 years ago.

It is good to see our community utility growing and improving, however, there are still important items to fix before we can say all is well. The numerous emergency declarations placed on CUC were placed to improve the quality of the corporation from its dismal state a few years ago. The hardwork and patience of the staff is finally starting to pay off.

Through the hard work of the staff at DPW and assistance from our federal partners, we have obtained and executed more than $11 million in contracts to improve our highway infrastructure within the last 36 months.

Our roads have been seeing significant improvement too. Lines are being redrawn, reflectors being replaced to distinguish north and southbound lanes at night, and road signs and traffic signals are being replaced and upgraded.

CIP

We have suffered in the past with a large unobligated balance in our Capital Improvement Project funds. Today I commend our federal and local partners in working collaboratively to assist us in correcting this problem in a timely manner. In the last 16 months alone, a total of $33 million has been obligated in capital funds for projects that will improve the quality of life for our citizens. This includes projects related to the improvement of the hospital’s ventilation and cooling system, improvements to the health centers in Tinian and Rota, renovation of Building A and K at the Northern Marianas College, acquisition of landfill equipment for Rota and Tinian, improvements to the Tinian harbor, improvements to the gymnasium, and access to the bird sanctuary in Rota, the development of an attractive tourist site at Kalabera Cave, and installation of storm water drainage systems in Garapan.

In the next 90 days, we anticipate additional obligations in excess of $20 million with park development at the decommissioned Puerto Rico Dump, the renovation of Tinian’s Airport Terminals, and the construction of the Tinian Transfer Station.

I also want to thank the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation for approving my request of $150,000 to revitalize the Carolinian Utt Project. This project has been long anticipated by our Carolinian community. Today, I’m pleased to report that the project is underway and finally, our Carolinian community will have a place to honor, preserve and pass on their traditions and heritage.

PSS & NMC

I want to congratulate all of our High School and College Seniors for a job well done and good luck in their future plans. This year, we saw over 700 high school seniors turn their tassels and begin the path to charting the rest of their lives, some of those students have gone to prepare for college abroad, I wish them all the best. And it is my hope that they can come back and build the CNMI of the future. A group of islands which to some may be a dot on the map, but to us a breeding ground for the most intelligent minds of the Pacific. But for the other batch, the path to professionalism runs through home, at our islands’ lone post-secondary institution. And they do so with added assurance.

I’m also pleased to report that earlier this month, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Office of Insular Affairs, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Insular ABC’s Phase III Agreement sharing a strong commitment to create the best learning environment for our children to furnish functional and safe schools here in the Commonwealth. This agreement makes up to $1 million available annually to the Public School System for the next four years through our annual CIP allocation that will benefit more than 10,000 students in our public schools.

Earlier this year, the Commonwealth saw a beaming light of pride when the Northern Marianas College, which for several years was facing one of the most severe sanctions that an institution can receive from its accrediting body, received word from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that the College was removed from Show Cause status and that the institution’s accreditation was reaffirmed.

To quote the headlines of one of the local newspapers, it was indeed “a great day for the Commonwealth.”

College employees, administrators, and the Board of Regents rolled up their sleeves, went to work, and did what was necessary to ensure that our Northern Marianas College continued to play a central role in the education, training, and advancement of our residents.

As a result, the College community succeeded in fully addressing accreditation standards and making sure that the College strengthened its role as the CNMI’s engine for economic growth…for it has been proven that the health of any state’s economy is strongly and directly linked to the education and skill of its workforce.

I am proud of the College’s accomplishments, and I commend NMC students, employees and Board members for their hard work and effort. I also want to thank the community, including legislative members, the private sector, and others who rallied behind our College.

Despite the great achievement and considerable amount of progress, however, the College is not resting on its laurels. Just recently, the Northern Marianas College adopted an ambitious five-year strategic plan that centers on workforce development, academic growth, and an expansion of programs and services to meet the needs of the local workforce.

Because it is now poised for further growth and development, the College is currently seeking accreditation through the Senior Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges or WASC. Just this past month, representatives from the Senior Commission visited the College to review the College’s application for accreditation and also review the College’s proposal to offer a new bachelor’s degree in business management, which was identified as a high priority by our private sector community.

I am also proud to say that recently I signed, on behalf of the Commonwealth, a commitment to join a national movement to significantly increase the number of students who are successfully completing college. Through the “Complete College America” initiative, I will be working with NMC and other leaders to develop measurable action plans and policies that place college completion a top priority of the CNMI. I look forward to reporting the progress of this effort at the next State of the Commonwealth address.

PUBLIC SAFETY

In the past year, the Commonwealth has enjoyed a very healthy working relationship with federal law enforcement agencies. The Department of Public Safety and the Division of Customs are working closely with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in its “War on Ice” efforts. A center of operations has already been established at the U.S. DEA Office so that the flow and distribution of drug enforcement information can be better coordinated.

I’m also pleased to report that on April 29th, I signed House Bill 18-101 into Public Law 18-47, to require annual drug testing for all law enforcement officers. This is a very significant measure and a step in the right direction toward ridding ice and other illegal drugs from our community. I especially wish to thank Representative Chris Leon Guerrero for introducing this very important legislation.

To further combat this vice in our community, the Commonwealth needs a drug court and a robust rehabilitation center to treat and reintegrate drug addicts back to society. This can be achieved by continued dialogue with the judiciary and our federal law enforcement and judicial partners. The drug court can serve to mediate cases between prosecution and the defense and monitor progression of drug offenders while the rehabilitation center can provide the necessary treatment and counseling required.

Drugs are no longer just a public safety problem, it is a problem that affects our whole community. The root causes of most violent and property crimes in the Commonwealth are attributed to the drug problem and we must rid our community of these destructive substances. While much work still remains, our Commonwealth is safer today than we were several years ago. And for this, I want to applaud every single one of our law enforcement officers for your efforts to protect and serve our Commonwealth. Thank you for all that you do!

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

Last month, the Department of Corrections reached a major milestone when the 1999 consent decree was finally lifted by the the U.S. District Court. DOC has since transitioned into the new and modern Commonwealth Correctional Facility in 2007 with rewritten and improved Policies and Procedures governing its management and operations. The joint efforts to address this issue required leadership and cooperation between the Administration, the Legislature and the Judiciary. The burden and bulk of such delicate and complex day-to-day responsibilities fall on the shoulders of frontline officers who perform tasks and constant interactions with inmates and detainees in the course of delivering goods and services to all persons in custody as well as provide public safety to our community. In line with this, I want to again congratulate the 35 new corrections officers who joined the force a few months ago.

CPA

At our ports of entry, we have, and continue to invest over $60 million in federal and local dollars on major development projects on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

Work is well underway on the rehabilitation of the main runway at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport to ensure that safety standards are in place for all travelers and air service personnel. At the international terminal, over $1 million in FAA funds were awarded to renovate all public restrooms and upgrade the water pump systems.

Other ongoing projects include roof drainage and air condition improvements and upgrading the Airport Rescue Fire Fighters Training Facility.

Nutrition Assistance Program

On April 8 of this year, Delegate Kilili and I announced a 62-percent increase in food stamps for Rota and Northern Islands residents and 28-percent increase for Tinian recipients starting May 1st. This is mainly a result of some $3 million in carryover funds. We are awaiting the results of data now being reviewed to determine if benefits for Saipan recipients could also get a 15-20 percent increase.

I recognize that for some, even with a steady job, our remote location still makes prices of goods and services higher than other parts of the world. As your Governor, I am committed to help you lighten that load.

Recently and with Delegate Kilili, I supported legislation to include the CNMI in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, and it was passed by Congress. At present a feasibility study is being worked on to weigh the pros and cons of the program’s implementation in our islands. The findings will be completed by the end of next fiscal year.

And even if the program cannot be implemented here, there will still be another 30 million dollars beginning FY 2016 to those who rely on subsistence.

CONCLUSION

My friends, we have made a whole lot of progress, but much more must be done and our work will not stop to identifying the solutions necessary. Together with Lt. Governor Hofschneider, U.S. Congressman Kilili, Senate President Torres, Speaker Deleon Guerrero and their colleagues, we will continue to build on improving the quality of life here in the Northern Marianas. Many of you still have serious concerns and we understand that there is still much to do, just know that we as a government, and I as your Governor hear you and will continue our strong commitment to the people.

I want to personally thank the government employees who continued working just as hard when we were under austerity as they did before. I promise you that I will do everything I can to prevent that from happening again.

The same voices that we hear are the ones that you hear. The voice of a young graduate from Chalan Kanoa, fresh out of college, wanting to use his degree but can’t because of a lack of jobs in his chosen field. The voice of a single mother of three who struggles in trying to keep food on the table and clothes on the backs of her kids, as well as the voice of a businessman who deals with having to try and find profit in a world that cuts back on buying.

And we hear the voices of our elderly in Capitol Hill, Marpo Valley, and Songsong Village, who struggle due to a vital part of their income held in legal limbo. It’s the concerns that you have whether you are in Sadog Tasi, or as far out as Boise, that are important to me, and as your Governor, as your servant, and as your friend, trust me when I say that we will get there.

My administration and your elected leaders are all driven to find solutions to the challenges facing the CNMI.

We cannot sit idly by, we will not stop our efforts, and we will not change our resolve to make the CNMI more prosperous for all our citizens.

While we are making significant progress in identifying and enacting solutions, there are many more mountains we have to climb.

And though they may seem difficult to ascend, it is my belief that through continued cooperation, collaboration and trust, not only will we able to face those obstacles, we will conquer them.

Thank you, si yu’os ma’ase’ and olomwaay. May God bless us all. (Gov. Eloy S. Inos)

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Gov. Eloy S. Inos
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