Kilili on STEP: Govt failed to meet initial deadline

Says he made reopening possible

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) had positive words yesterday for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, but leavened it immediately with a clarification that it was his action that allowed the CNMI to apply for the grant program that was eventually successful.

In a press conference at his office in Susupe that he said was intended to set the record straight, Sablan congratulated Torres for the administration’s success in getting the CNMI’s application for the State Trade Expansion Program—a $150,000 federal grant program—approved.

He noted, though, that the Torres administration actually missed the first deadline and that he made possible the reopening of the application window.

“I went to the [Small Business Administration] to ask if they could reopen the application window so [the CNMI] could submit their application,” he said.

The program, according to Sablan, did not initially include the CNMI, but in 2012, as U.S. Congress was drafting the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013, Sablan inserted the language to include the CNMI in STEP. Since then, he said, the CNMI has been applying annually for the program.

However, the Torres administration failed to submit the STEP application for fiscal year 2018 within the application window, Sablan said, prompting him to reach out to the SBA to reopen the application.

“They missed the deadline for applying this year…When [the SBA] said yes [to the application window reopening], I alerted the governor of this second chance and told them they would allow us to submit an application and that they would accept it despite it being past the deadline,” he said.

Saipan Tribune learned that Sablan sent a June 20, 2018, letter to the governor informing him of the second chance the SBA gave the CNMI to apply for the grant.

“This follow-on opportunity will only be available for a short period of time, however. So, I wanted to alert you and [STEP coordinator Frank Cabrera], in the event an application from the Marianas has not been forthcoming. That the opportunity remains available, if an applicant in the Marianas can act quickly,” he had said.

In a July 21, 2018, letter, Torres thanked Sablan for the heads-up.

“Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention,” Torres wrote. “It is the policy of this administration to support opportunities that would continue to expand economic development, as well as programs that foster entrepreneurship and building the Commonwealth’s workforce capacity.”

Sablan responded to Torres’ July 21, 2018 letter with another letter dated July 24, 2018, expressing his gratitude for the successful submission of the application.

In a Sept. 19, 2018, press release, the Torres administration noted that the CNMI has been awarded $150,000 in STEP funding.

STEP is designed to increase both the number of small businesses that begin to export and the value of exports for small businesses currently exporting. 

In 2017, the CNMI was awarded $142,000 in STEP funds, for a two-year period, which is now working its way toward the fourth quarter into the program, which will end by 2019. The 2018 STEP award of $150,000 will be an additional two-year period funding, which ends by 2020. 

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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