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Thursday, April 17, 2014

At least $88.9M sought for territories

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and his counterparts from Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands asked President Barack Obama to include “no less than $88.9 million” in “assistance to territories” program funding as the president prepares to submit to U.S. Congress his fiscal year 2015 budget proposal.

In fiscal year 2014, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs received only $85.976 million in “assistance to territories” funding, of which more than 90 percent has been awarded to the insular areas in the form of grants.

Sablan took the lead in writing a Feb. 10, 2014, letter to Obama for the fiscal year 2015 budget request, a copy of which was obtained by Saipan Tribune yesterday.

Press secretary Angel Demapan, when sought for comment yesterday, said, “In principle, the governor supports this request.” But the administration has not seen a copy of this request yet.

Also signing the two-page letter to Obama were Guam Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, U.S. Virgin Islands Delegate Donna M. Christensen, and American Samoa Delegate Eni F.H. Faleomavaega.

“We are writing to request you prioritize the Assistance to Territories program in your fiscal year 2015 budget proposal for the Office of Insular Affairs of the Department of [the] Interior by including no less than $88.9 million, which reflects [fiscal year] 2013 enacted level,” the delegates told the president.

OIA carries out the responsibility of the Interior secretary for U.S. insular areas.

The delegates said OIA is often called upon as a last resort for the insular areas to fill the gap left by other federal programs, even as the territories continue to have poverty level three to five times the national level as well as declining population except in Guam.

“It is therefore critically important that [OIA] receive sufficient financial resources to allow it to continue to assist the islands in turning around their struggling economies,” they told Obama.

Initiatives funded under the OIA program in recent years have included areas of health management, implementation of audit recommendations and other internal controls, economic development, public safety, education, clean energy production, and critical environmental infrastructure improvements.

The delegates said the president’s budget proposal would reflect the Obama administration’s continued priority to implement federal policies such as promoting economic development on the islands.

The president’s budget is usually delivered to Congress on the first Monday of February, but it has been delayed until early March this year because of the government shutdown last October.

Sablan separately said over the weekend that the specific programs he has supported for the CNMI include increased funding for Title I education and special education grants that are crucial to the Public School System, port and harbor project funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, more money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP, weatherization, and state energy grants that help lower power costs.

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