Relying mainly on ARPA to  fund personnel costs risky


Victor B. Hocog

Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee chair Sen. Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota) said Tuesday that the House of Representatives’ action of using 80% of the American Rescue Plan Act money to fund the personnel costs of the government’s departments and agencies,  places the CNMI government and its employees in a detrimental financial risk should ARPA funds become unavailable to fund such costs in the following years.

In a slide presentation during the Senate’s press conference in the Senate chamber Hocog said Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig stated that the House’s action to cover personnel costs  at 80% or ARPA funds as opposed to the 20% coverage “is actually putting a hamper on the total availability for provisions of government for Fiscal Year 2023.”

The senator said therefore, the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee agreed to restore personnel costs funded at 20% ARPA, and 80% local revenue.

“So what the Senate did is that they reversed the investment of funding to fund the operations of government and other agencies by putting back the 80% of local funds and revert back to 20% from ARPA to support other departments with their needs,” Hocog said, referring to the Senate’s unanimous passing of their budget version Friday.

Sen. Vinnie F. Sablan (R-Saipan) in his presentation regarding the 25% retiree pension benefits, noted that the House allocated $13.6 million to fund the 25% retiree pension benefits despite their knowledge that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Finance Secretary Atalig acknowledged that funds have already been identified  for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2023 to cover the retirees pension benefits.

Sablan said this would come from the community disaster loan to fund retirees pension benefits for FY 2023.

He said the Senate, in line with the governor’s commitment, ensures to continue supporting the retirees pension benefit.

Sablan said through the reprogramming authority of the governor pursuant to the Commonwealth Code, the Senate is confident  that every effort will be made to identify funds for the remaining three quarters of FY 2023.

Sen. Karl King-Nabors (R-Tinian) said regarding full time employees funded under ARPA, the House eliminated 2,103 positions throughout the CNMI.

King-Nabors said the biggest concern  was the House’s total disregard to properly identify  which positions and salaries were cut.

He said mayors of Tinian and Rota  are left with no guidance as to which positions will no longer be available for renewal come Oct. 1, 2022.

King-Nabors said furthermore, there is no clear indication on whether these cuts were only made to exempted service employees or civil service employees.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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