The Office of Transit Authority under the Office of the Governor is asking Saipan lawmakers to appropriate $44,768 to “temporarily” fund the transportation of individuals with disabilities while waiting for federal grants to come in, weeks after the Saipan Call-a-Ride service was suspended when its contract with the CNMI Council on Developmental Disabilities expired on Oct. 17.
At the same time, 80-year-old Luisa Borja Quitugua and her son Elbert asked the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation to appropriate funding for their family, more than 20 years since waiting for compensation from the government in exchange for using their property in As Teo as public road.
Today, lawmakers will be at the court to show their support to the Quitugua family who may be held in contempt of court for blocking a road in As Teo. However, the family has not totally blocked the road, because vehicles can still freely access the road through a road detour.
The Quituguas have been seeking $77,179 in court judgment, plus accrued interest, due to them.
Last week, the government finally paid Luisa Quitugua $10,000, but that's only a small fraction of what's owed to her. Her son said his mother is open to negotiation.
During a Saipan delegation session on Thursday, advocates for people with disabilities told lawmakers that since October, the Call-a-Ride service was suspended.
The CNMI Council on Developmental Disabilities and its para-transit operations partner, August Healthcare Group LLC, which operates the specialized Saipan Call-a-Ride for individuals with disabilities and the man'amko since 2011, announced earlier that their one-year service contract agreement and the three-month extended service contract agreement expired on Oct. 17.
The CNMI Council on Developmental Disabilities, which is in the transition of transferring the operations and capital assets to the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority (COTA), asked Saipan lawmakers' help for funding while their application for federal grants is still pending.
COTA is expecting two federal grant awards amounting to $1.114 million from the Federal Transit Authority fiscal year 2012, among other things.
Thomas J. Camacho, special assistant for public transportation, said the $44,768 being asked of Saipan lawmakers will revive and fund the operations expense for the only transit system available on Saipan.
“This is our short-term solution to our current problem facing our transit system,” he said.
Bud White, a concerned citizen, made an appeal to lawmakers and people in the House gallery on Thursday, to help donate to a volunteer driver named Willdrow Cabrera, whom he said continues to provide transportation-free of charge-to people with disabilities even after the contract with August Healthcare Group LLC expired.
After donating $100 to Cabrera, White also made the rounds in the House chamber to collect donations from lawmakers and others on Thursday.
White gave the collected money to John Demapan, 24, vice chair of the CNMI Council on Development Disabilities, to be personally given to Cabrera.
“We thank Mr. Cabrera for volunteering his time and effort to help us with transportation,” Demapan told Saipan Tribune on Thursday.
During the weekend, Demapan issued a statement saying that the purpose of the Call-A-Ride program is to ensure that people with disabilities have accessible transportation to their destinations and to make people with disabilities be active socially and enjoy the wonders of life.
Through the years, the Call-A-Ride program has changed hands under different managements due to funding issues and other factors beyond their control.
Demapan said the August Healthcare Group better known as St. Michael's Ambulance Service, recently administered the Call-A-Ride program under a one-year federal grant through a bidding process.
After the contract ended, August Healthcare Group decided to extend for a good three months its service, “to maintain uninterrupted services for people with disabilities,” Demapan said.
“As of this time the DD Council is temporarily in charge of the Call-A-Ride program until such time federal Transit funds arrive to bid out the program again to a suitable transportation company. DD Council commends Mr. Wlldrow Cabrera for his dedication and service for his four years of service as a Call-A-Ride driver under DD Council and one year service as a Call-A-Ride driver for August Healthcare Group. He is also recognized and appreciated for volunteering his personal time driving people with disabilities uncompensated for six weeks after the contract ended,” Demapan said.