‘Payment to secure 25% pension benefit this fiscal year will go on’
$58M FEMA reimbursement eyed to secure funding for retirees’ 25% benefits
The Palacios-Apatang administration is committed to provide funding to pay the additional 25% pension benefits to government retirees this fiscal year 2023, according to acting Finance secretary Tracy B. Norita.
“I know that it will take a lot of collaboration between the administration and the Legislature to ensure that that commitment is fulfilled,” said Norita in response to questions during her confirmation hearing Thursday to serve as Finance secretary.
Sen. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), who chairs the Senate Executive Appointments and Government Investigations Committee, said that many retirees are very concerned about receiving 25% of their pensions.
The CNMI government is mandated by a federal court settlement order to pay only 75% of government retirees’ pensions. The previous Torres administration had been adding into the payment of the 25% portion of the pensions to ensure that retirees get 100% of their monthly pensions.
Babauta asked if the current administration has any plan to suspend the 25% payment this fiscal year because the revenue is tight and the subject has been raised in budget meetings.
At this point, Norita said, they are fully aligned together to provide that 25% payment to the retirees and that they did include that in the revised budget proposal for fiscal year 2023.
Norita said their fiscal team is working hard to ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse them at least $58 million that will be used to cover the 25%.
“So I do reassure the retirees that we are working hard to fulfill that commitment,” she said.
As to the question if there is any contingency plan if that FEMA reimbursement does not materialize, Norita said the urgency right now is to expedite those FEMA reimbursements so that funding for the 25% can be secured for the retirees.
She disclosed that, as of their last fiscal response meeting, the Public Assistance Office did share that they are looking forward of at least $58 million that has been provided to FEMA for review and approval.
Most of the reimbursements represent funding the CNMI used to recover from Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018. Because the typhoon was declared a national disaster, that set the way for the release of federal funds to help the CNMI recover. While waiting for the federal funds, the CNMI used its own funds for the recovery process; FEMA is supposed the reimburse the CNMI that local money.