WITH ARPA FUNDS AVAILABLE
Judiciary requesting for additional $5M funding for more FTEs, wage increases, funding for Mental Health Court
With the availability of the American Rescue Plan Act funding, the CNMI Judiciary is recalling and filling their 20 full-time employee positions they had lost due to lack of funding, according to CNMI Judiciary director of courts Sonia A. Camacho.
Camacho discussed the Judiciary’s FTE’s during the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means’ budget hearing for the Judiciary last Thursday.
Committee vice chair Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan), who presided over the hearing, told Saipan Tribune yesterday that he does not have the accurate documents with him, but in summary the Judiciary’s request was more than its 2019 budget level.
Blanco said the Judiciary is requesting an additional $5 million, which would include, among others, additional FTEs and funding, employee wage increases, and funding for the Mental Health Court that is slated to be launched in July this year.
At the hearing, Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) asked how many employees were furloughed or permanently removed from the Judiciary prior to the ARPA funds coming to the CNMI. In response, Camacho said that, in the previous fiscal year they had 94 FTEs and that 20 were vacated.
She said she wants to use the word “vacated” because their personnel regulations do not cover furlough for all employees. “We have Civil Service employees who were furloughed. …But for the rest of the employees…it’s an involuntary separation because it was not due to a reason of their making,” the director pointed out.
Camacho said they released 20 from their contracts and they left the Judiciary in May last year.
She said since the confirmation of ARPA funds were made known to the Judiciary, they are recalling and filling the 20 positions. In fact, Camacho said, they have filled two and are waiting for 18 more.
“There are some that are being announced. There are some that will be automatically filled right away. Because under our personnel regulations, there’s a call back clause that allows us to call back those that were separated for those reasons,” the director said.
Camacho said they have already filled some of the 20 FTEs and that they have been assured by the administration that all those positions will be covered under ARPA.
Camacho said the Judiciary submitted its request for ARPA funds last April 14 to the Executive Branch.
At the proclamation signing for Law Week this month, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres announced that a preliminary figure that may be allocated to the Judiciary is initially $10 million, she said.
The director said that on Monday, May 24, they received an invitation from the Office of Management and Budget and in that meeting, OMB chief Vicky Villagomez informed them that the Executive Branch intends to supplement its budget submission.
Camacho said Villagomez told them that the underlying reasons are that the ARPA funds have physically been received and the interim guidelines are out.
She said they were informed that OMB was inviting all agencies and the Judiciary to go over the numbers with them.
Camacho said they did go over the Judiciary’s existing budget submission that was provided to the Legislature.
Camacho said the number that OMB gave them at that meeting to cover personnel was $2.1 million under ARPA funds.
She said currently, OMB’s submission allocates 20% of the Judiciary’s FTEs be covered under ARPA funds.
Camacho said at the Monday’s meeting, they told OMB that they are going to call back the 20 staff that they lost.
“They told us that would be okay because it would be covered under ARPA funds, but within the confines of the $2.1 million that’s been set aside for personnel,” she said.
Last March, the CNMI Judiciary submitted to the Legislature a budget request for fiscal year 2022 in the amount of $11,832,100, which is approximately $7 million more than what is currently allocated to the Judiciary.
CNMI Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro and Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja stated in their budget request that the $11.83 million is not outside of their previous budget requests, and that this reflects what the Judiciary truly needs to run effectively.
Castro and Naraja said for many years the Judiciary has taken a backseat due to other issues in the CNMI. They said the lack of adequate funding has continuously strained judicial services and stretched employees extremely thin, both physically and mentally.