When the pandemic hit, unemployment and business closures skyrocketed. The U.S. government rode to the rescue of not just the U.S. mainland but also the CNMI and other territories with a raft of financial assistance to businesses and individuals to keep the economy moving and help people go on with their lives.
Eligible individuals and businesses were able to receive stimulus checks, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and Federal Pandemic Compensation, while the Paycheck Protection Program and Small Business Administration loans were activated.
A total of $54.7 million worth of the economic impact payments or stimulus checks were issued and released by the CNMI Department of Finance. A stimulus check was meant to provide taxpayers with spending power and, at the same time, boost economic movement.
Melanie Campos of Garapan said that the first round of stimulus checks helped her and her family reorganize themselves after she and husband were laid off from work. “My husband and I work simple jobs and classified as low-income workers. When we were laid off, we were shocked and disheartened and, just right on time, two weeks later our stimulus checks arrived,” she said.
“We received $2,400 in total and this kept us afloat for a time while we were trying to reorganize ourselves, our children, our savings and our daily budget. The money from the stimulus checks helped us not to dig into our savings immediately, that’s why it was a huge help for my family,” she added.
In May, the U.S. Department of Labor approved the CNMI’s implementation plan for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs. The CNMI Department of Labor then distributed up to $136 million worth of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
Lisa Garcia of Papago said that being furloughed turned her life upside-down. ”Being without a job affected me immensely but receiving PUA helped me stay on top of my bills. Without it, I would’ve lost my car and probably run out of food,” she said.
“The government’s decision to provide relief and support could really help businesses and the community to live their lives as normally as possible in times like these,” she added.
In April, the U.S. Small Business Administration approved over $513 billion worth of loans under its Paycheck Protection Program. A total of 336 applicants are from the Northern Marianas amounting to a total of $34,902,412. SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program helps small businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, so that they could avoid laying off employees.
John Michaels of Chalan Kiya, who owns a small plumbing business, said that receiving this kind of relief was a big help. “It allowed me to still open shop and keep my employees on board so they can feed and send their children to school. Even if the PPP gave me a small loan, it kept us in business,” he said.
“The good thing about my business is we’re pretty small, so any business that comes our way helps us a lot in operations and finances. If things continue this way, I think we will be able to go through this pandemic,” he added.
To date, the CNMI government is trying to get more federal loans and assistance. CNMI Washington Office director Jason Osborne said last week that more federal assistance may still flow into the CNMI while everyone awaits the U.S. Congress’ negotiations about the second round of stimulus checks.