President Barack Obama’s signing of a bill that ended a 16-day partial U.S. government shutdown spared the CNMI from some of the major impacts such as cuts or temporary halt in food stamps and other federally-funded health, education, and welfare programs. But CNMI officials said yesterday the relief could only be temporary.
The American Memorial Park in Garapan, meanwhile, could re-open as early as Saturday, chief ranger Jason Beatty told Saipan Tribune last night.
Beatty said the employees are reporting back to work today to prepare the park facilities and grounds for re-opening.
“We are tentatively set to reopen on Saturday barring major mechanical and other maintenance issues,” he added.
The U.S. immigration court on Saipan also closed during the shutdown but there’s no telling when it will re-open.
The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., which earlier considered prioritizing Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, program if the shutdown goes beyond October, expressed relief yesterday.
“Every day during the shutdown, WIC management has been updating our contingency plans to reflect the current availability of the funds so all of us at CHCC are relieved to hear of the news,” CHC interim chief executive officer Esther Muña said last night.
Muña said CHCC will now await guidance from federal agencies “for how the new law will affect all of our federal programs, including the WIC program.”
The WIC program is a federally funded supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children up to 5 years old.
The Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority is also expected to restore the regular hours of its Call-A-Ride operations.
For days, the Call-A-Ride hours of operations were cut to 6:30am to 9:30am and 2:30pm to 5:30pm Monday to Friday. It’s closed on weekends and holidays.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said the underlying issue of balancing the national books remains unresolved “and that we could face another shutdown and debt ceiling showdown at the beginning of next year.”
“Americans in the Northern Mariana Islands and throughout our country have lost income and had their well-being placed at risk, because of this needless shutdown of our national government. So, I am very glad to see it ended. I congratulate Mr. Reid and Mr. McConnell, in particular, for working together successfully in the best interest of the nation,” he said in a statement.
The new law signed on Wednesday reopens federal agencies, calls some 800,000 civil servants back to work, and raises the $16.7 trillion debt limit.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos said the shutdown affected the CNMI “as many of the federal counterparts were unresponsive at that time” and meeting deadlines for some of the grants was uncertain for a lack of acknowledgement of receipt of submissions.
“Fortunately, the end of this shutdown will ensure that our agencies are in compliance and that our services are available to the public,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, for his part, said some local government employees just recently faced a similar situation “and so I certainly appreciate the fact that our federal employees can now report back to work and make a living for themselves.”
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) reached an agreement to fund the U.S. government through Jan. 15, 2014, and to give the nation sufficient borrowing authority to last through Feb. 7, 2014.
That ended a stalemate when hardline conservatives pushed GOP leaders to use the threat of shutdown to block Obama’s landmark health program.
Their accord, which ends 16 days of government shutdown and high anxiety over the possibility that America could default on its debt, was approved on an 81-18 vote in the U.S. Senate Wednesday.
The House followed two hours later, approving the temporary spending bill and debt limit increase, by a vote of 285-144.
Democrats in the House accounted for 198 of the “yes” votes that will put federal employees back to work and restore funding for veterans programs, the national parks, Head Start, and nutritional assistance, and a myriad of other federal programs on hold since the Oct. 1 beginning of the fiscal year.
A majority of House Republicans opposed, Sablan said.
“I know that federal employees in the Northern Mariana Islands share my relief to learn that they will be paid for the time they were locked out of their workplaces. I know that those in the Commonwealth government who are paid with federal funds will breathe easier; and the contractors and workers whose jobs require federal funds will be glad to know they can keep building. And I am sure that the many individuals and families who depend on federal education and health programs to make their lives better will be thankful that this crisis is over,” he said.
Sablan said the CNMI people may not have a vote in Congress, “but I will continue to work in the days ahead to ensure that our voice is heard in all these national deliberations.”