Bank red tape blocks FEMA aid


Mabelle Subang of Gualo Rai Road was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to receive financial aid. In fact, the money was already in her back account. However, when she tried to withdraw it, Bank of Guam refused to release the money to her, citing bank policy.

Today marks the second month since Typhoon Soudelor devastated Saipan but many of those who were fortunate enough to get approved for financial assistance are having trouble accessing their much-needed money.

Like hundreds of foreign nationals with U.S. citizen children, Subang was advised to put in the name of her U.S. citizen child as the applicant when she applied for FEMA assistance.
“In the beginning I was the applicant. FEMA advised me to change the name of the applicant to my child’s name so that I won’t have a problem with the inspector,” Subang told Saipan Tribune.

On Sept. 20, some days after being inspected, Subang’s application was approved and FEMA wired the money to her account in Bank of Guam.

However, what was supposed to be a faster way to get the money turned out to be circuitous for Subang.

“When I went to the bank they were asking for too many requirements. They told me I can’t withdraw the money because it’s not in my name. I told them that’s my child, because I need to put the name of my child as the applicant,” Subang said.

“They said it’s not allowed because that’s their policy.”

Subang said she was told to bring the birth certificate of her child proving she is the mother, a copy of FEMA’s letter showing how much she received, and a letter stating why she had the money sent to her account.

“That FEMA letter takes a while to come because it’s through the mail. The reason why I wanted the money wired is because that is faster,” Subang said. “If I’d known this would happen, I should just have opted for the money to be sent via mail.”

After not being able to withdraw her money, Subang said FEMA retrieved the money from Bank of Guam and will instead be sending her a check through the mail. This check is expected to arrive within seven to 10 days and may be subjected to more days of clearing before it can be cashed.

It is now October and still Subang is not able to use the assistance her family needs. Subang said it’s doubly hard for them who already went through a disaster to be given the run-around when they try to access their financial assistance.

“They are the local bank who is supposed to help their clients who went through a disaster but instead they are giving us a hard time,” Subang said.

Bank of Guam declined to comment on the matter but stated that they have already coordinated with FEMA regarding this.

FEMA is also aware of the problem and confirmed that they already had discussions with all the banks operating in Saipan.

“It is true that survivors have had difficulties especially when the checks or electronically transferred funds are in the name of the minor child in the households and FEMA’s private sector division has had two round tables with Saipan banking industry to help them resolve the issues and we are ongoing, we’re still working on that, working closely with the bank for a final resolution of all the issues,” FEMA media relations manager Kurt Pickering said.

According to Pickering, these are “banking issues” and not “FEMA issues.”

He added that those who are having problems with their assistance can consult with FEMA at the Disaster Recovery Center.

“That’s what the Disaster Recovery Center is for. If you’re having a problem you can go to the Disaster Recovery Center,” Pickering said.

Frauleine S. Villanueva-Dizon | Reporter
Frauleine Michelle S. Villanueva was a broadcast news producer in the Philippines before moving to the CNMI to pursue becoming a print journalist. She is interested in weather and environmental reporting but is an all-around writer. She graduated cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Journalism and was a sportswriter in the student publication.

Related Posts

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.