If the CNMI fails to complete all ARRA-funded projects totaling $119 million, it could end up losing portions of the $24 million it has yet to draw down barely 13 months before the federal government starts reclaiming unused funds.
Latest data from federal tracking agency recovery.gov also shows that as of June 30 and as of the July 30 update, the CNMI has yet to either start or complete 32 of 57 identified ARRA-funded projects.
These 32 projects involved $62 million, of which some $24 million has yet to be drawn down.
The CNMI has completed only 25 or 44 percent of ARRA-funded projects. These completed projects involved close to $57 million.
Since 2009, the CNMI has been awarded $119 million in ARRA grants and no new grant awards are expected until the program winds down.
Three projects have not even started, involving $4.5 million.
Ten projects involving $17 million are still less than 50 percent completed. Some $14.8 million of this amount has yet to be drawn down.
Nineteen other projects involving $40.5 million are more than 50 percent completed. Of this amount, $9.3 million has yet to be drawn down.
Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), chairman of the House Committee on Commerce and Tourism, said ARRA has been a “tremendous” contributor to the economy, considering that total grants amounted to over $119 million, more than the CNMI government's current budget of $102 million or even next fiscal year's proposed budget of $114 million.
“ARRA has helped the CNMI a lot, not only with the infrastructure but also with jobs, especially at public schools. A lot of teachers were retained or hired because of ARRA,” he said.
ARRA-funded projects included road repair and construction, renovation of existing classrooms and building of new ones, installation of energy-efficient air conditioners and lighting systems, and improvements in water and power services, among other things.
Villagomez said while other projects are not moving at a speedy rate, there are a lot of contributing factors for the current pace, including contractor issues and the “Buy America” policy in which the CNMI has had difficulty complying.
“I'm hoping the CNMI will be able to complete and use all the funds awarded to it,” he added.
The Obama administration's ARRA program was meant to jumpstart the economy and create and save jobs.
Of the $119 million awarded to the CNMI, some $48 million was for education, almost $39 million for energy/environment projects, and over $15 million for transportation projects. The rest were divided among projects or programs related to infrastructure, public safety, housing, family, health, and job training.