Recoupment eyed for BOOST funds
Acting Department of Finance secretary Tracy B. Norita said that they are looking at recoupment of funds from businesses that were not supposed to receive money from the Building Optimism, Opportunities, and Stability Together, or BOOST grant program.
“I know that the [BOOST] program is over and we are looking at recoupment of funds,” said Norita in response to questions during her confirmation hearing Thursday.
She said her initial thought on the BOOST Program was that it was intended to help the business community and that she sympathizes with honest small businesses that did apply for assistance and didn’t receive any. She said the program was tarnished by its mismanagement.
“It was just unfortunate the way it was handled and I hope that those businesses that did receive aid use it to the best of their ability to help the CNMI recover,” Norita said.
Sen. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), who chairs the Senate Executive Appointments and Government Investigations Committee, said it’s good to hear that there are plans to recover the funds from individuals who established businesses right before the BOOST deadline and were not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We got a lot of calls on what’s happening with the BOOST investigation. I think the public needs to hear from those in positions to update them,” Babauta said.
She said one of the biggest concerns they get now is if the Legislature is going for recoupment of the funds.
“We don’t have the authority to do so. I’m glad that you say that,” said the senator, referring to Norita’s disclosure that they are working on recoupment.
Both the current House of Representatives and Senate have already decided not to take up the previous legislative committees’ investigation on the BOOST program.
Rep. Marissa Flores (Ind-Saipan), who chairs the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations for the 23rd Legislature, had previously stated that the committee agreed that it would not conduct additional legislative hearings on the BOOST program, given that several criminal investigations into the program have already been initiated.
Babauta previously stated that she has no plans at this time for her Committee on Judiciary, Government and Law, to continue the oversight investigation into the BOOST Program.
Babauta said they have already provided all 4,000 pages of BOOST-related documents received from their House committee subpoenas to the Office of the Attorney General, Office of the Public Auditor, and appropriate law enforcement authorities.
The 22nd House Ways and Means Committee and the Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee jointly recommended that further legislative investigation into the BOOST Program is needed, and should continue in the 23rd Legislature.
BOOST is a project of the previous Office of the Governor, the Department of Finance, and Department of Commerce that aimed to provide financial assistance to CNMI businesses and non-profit organizations.
Through BOOST, financial assistance was provided to local businesses and non-profit organizations in the form of grants and business coaching.