Many people are applying for funding under the Building Optimism, Opportunities, and Stability Together, or BOOST Program, but House of Representatives Vice Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (Ind-Saipan) is concerned that many may not be aware of the potential detrimental effects this funding may have on the recipients.
In particular, Attao said these BOOST grants will only turn into grants if the beneficiary—whether a business, non-profit organization, or individual—complies with every single piece of the American Rescue Plan Act program that has been finalized by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
“Failure to follow all the necessary documents in the future when the inspector general actually comes into the CNMI to look at all the monies that were brought in to the CNMI for the last five or six years—almost $2 billion—[could result in] a lot of our people…suffering down the road,” he said.
Attao expressed alarm over the implementation of the BOOST Program during a joint meeting by the House Committee on Ways and Means and Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations in the House chamber Monday afternoon.
The BOOST Program is a project of the Office of the Governor and the Department of Commerce that aims to provide financial assistance to CNMI businesses and non-profit organizations. Bank of Saipan is the administering authority for the program.
Attao said the House majority is not against helping businesses or individuals.
“This is something that was brought up since the 21st Legislature when we first got the ARPA money negotiations in U.S. Congress when they started talking about the $200 million, $300 million, potential half a billion dollars that will be coming to the CNMI,” he said.
He said they suggested to the administration reserving at a minimum $15 million that should be distributed to businesses in the CNMI. He said that money would have carried the CNMI in those tough times during the COVID-19 period. “They survived even though their businesses weren’t making any money. At the very least they were circulating funds within our economy,” Attao said.
He said the position of the House at the time was to reserve approximately $15 million so they can get them into the hands of small businesses.
“Allow them to run their businesses the way they see fit because they understand their businesses way better that we do. So that was the intent back then. Unfortunately, it never happened. That was before the BOOST program ever came about,” the vice speaker said.
He said the BOOST Program was spoken about six months ago and that its distribution period now is “a little bit questionable.”
Attao reiterated that his biggest concern in the next couple of years are the individuals and businesses that will potentially get these BOOST grants and the auditing by the inspector general.
He said that is biggest worry because these individuals and businesses will complain to the House for not helping them due to lack of information that is being distributed to the members of the community. Attao said it’s a dangerous road that they are putting people in.
“Yeah, we’re getting money into their pockets, getting money into their businesses now. But in a couple of years…how are we [going to] explain that…these were the steps that were supposed to be followed, but unfortunately you didn’t follow it,” he said.
In that event, Attao said, the Legislature will be blamed for not caring about businesses and the individuals. “They’re not being given the full picture of the potential detrimental effects of not following the rules and regulations that are going to be implemented by this program,” he said.
Attao was among the members of the JGO Committee member who voted “yes” Monday to a motion offered by Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) to subpoena the Department of Finance, Department of Commerce, Office of the Governor, and Bank of Saipan to compel them to produce all records related to the BOOST Program in a bid to find out, among other things, who have been awarded funds and those who have been denied or still awaiting disposition.