U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked about the $21.7 million out of $36.3 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds available for the CNMI and expiring on Dec. 31, 2021, according to Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP).
When asked about this, Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said yesterday the Department of Finance will have a response.
Sablan wrote Torres last Wednesday to tell him about Pelosi bringing to his (Sablan) attention the expiring COVID-19 relief funds. The delegate said that Pelosi asked him (Sablan) for the governor’s expenditure plan for these funds.
“It would be a tremendous loss to the Commonwealth if you were unable to spend all the relief aid Congress has provided you,” Sablan told Torres.
He said future funding will be more difficult to obtain if the CNMI government has a track record of not fully utilizing the money allocated to money.
The delegate asked Torres to provide him with his plan of expenditure for the remaining $21.7 million of Coronavirus Relief Funds, so that he can give that information to Pelosi and ensure that this federal aid continues.
The delegate said the CNMI was originally awarded $36.3 million from the CARES Act, U.S. Public 116-136, which was enacted in March 2020.
He said the funds are to be used for unbudgeted expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency during 2020.
Yet as of Sept. 30, 2021, Torres had only spent $14.6 million or 40.2% of his original allotment, according to the data collected by the federal Pandemic Oversight agency, Sablan said.
By comparison, the Guam governor has spent all that territory’s Coronavirus Relief Fund allotment, Sablan added.
He said the American Samoa governor had used 90% as of Sept. 30, 2021.
“The Commonwealth is lagging far behind,” Sablan said.
He also noted that, in reviewing the list of businesses and government agencies that shared in the $14.6 million that Torres did spend, he does not find the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., which had significant, unbudgeted expenses during the initial year of the pandemic.
The delegate said the Public School System too would have had significant, unexpected expenses as students and teachers transitioned to working from home during that period of time.
“Yet none of the $36.3 million at your disposal seems to have gone to education,” he said.