$210M FEMA reimbursement seen

Posted on Mar 14 2019

The Torres administration expects its reimbursement request with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Super Typhoon Yutu to reach $210 million.

The amount, however, is an estimate and it could be amended once all the data of the costs for Yutu are added up.

The reimbursement amount is also subject to a review of a disbursement committee that handles disaster recovery funds.

FEMA is the one that handles the federal assistance request and the U.S. Congress would get involved with the funding if there’s a need.

The CNMI government has upfronted the cost of the recovery efforts—from cleanup and debris removal to public utility repairs.

As of mid-January this year, FEMA had already spent $21 million for individuals who qualified for federal assistance.

Virginia Villagomez, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ authorized representative and the special assistant for the Office of Management and Budget, told the members of the House Ways and Means Committee that, as of Tuesday the government’s obligations and expenditures for Yutu is now at $74.9 million.

“$15.1 million is considered as expense while $59.8 million remains an open obligation. To date, there is an excess of $79 million that have been awarded by FEMA for Yutu. Of that alone, $70.9 million is for power restoration,” Villagomez said.

Aside from power restoration—including the installation of new concrete power poles—the CNMI’s other projects for its recovery efforts are construction and repairs of schools, government buildings, the Northern Marianas College, and private homes. That could bring the total amount to the $210 million mark.

“Whatever the final number would be, in our original submission for federal assistance, we submitted $210 million. That’s what we anticipated. As of yesterday, [Yutu cost] went up to $164 million and that has not included [the Public School System] and other autonomous agencies,” said Villagomez.

Acting Finance secretary David Atalig, who also submitted a report to the governor that the CNMI expects a budget shortfall of 22 percent this fiscal year, said he has already seen the Yutu-related payables.

“But I don’t know which is disaster-related or not. I just know the payables are a large amount. We are cash-strapped, since we spent so much…for disaster recovery,” he said.

He said the CNMI government expects a good amount of FEMA reimbursements by April 20 while another batch would come in by June 30.

“We are waiting for those reimbursements to come in so we can pay our vendors. I look at it as a general fund. So with these reimbursements coming in, it would allow us to take care of our current payables, which would also ensure that our settlement and payrolls will not get affected,” added Atalig.

The Ways and Means Committee chair, Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan), told Saipan Tribune that the FEMA reimbursements would help the CNMI government in paying its typhoon recovery obligations.

“At today’s hearing, we were informed that FEMA reimbursements and/or drawdowns will be reviewed through a disbursement committee at the federal level because they exceeded the $100-million mark,” said Blanco. “Such drawdowns will certainly infuse cash into the government’s coffers and will bring our payables to current.”

Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chairman, told Saipan Tribune in an earlier interview that the government has no choice but to upfront the cost for recovery efforts.

“It is all about documentation and I have the confidence in the administration and other responsible entities in the CNMI to document those. It appears that the government is…paying attention to the expenses closely because of all that has happened,” said Hofschneider.

“We shall take into consideration the CNMI government’s responsibility to front the money for the recovery. FEMA money it is not overnight. There’s a process and qualifications to do that.”

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.
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