Editor’s Note: This is being published in two parts due to its length.
First of two parts
In the first part of this Report to the People, I highlighted the legislative activities I have been involved in during this term in the 21st House of Representatives. Part I describes bills I have worked on and supported, bills I have opposed, committee responsibilities including oversight, and a look ahead at legislative priorities in the remainder of this term and into the next.
Part II of this report continues with an overview of our office’s constituent services, operations, and outreach programs.
Our office responds daily to constituent inquiries and manages casework for individuals needing assistance in navigating government agencies and programs. Over the past two years we have fielded hundreds of inquiries and requests for help on issues ranging from federal unemployment assistance to unpaid wages, unfair furloughs, retirement pensions, COVID-19 protocols, emergency food and rental assistance, CUC billing problems, health care coverage, stimulus checks, tax refunds, workers compensation, worksite safety, immigration matters, Medicaid and food stamp applications, issues with public lands, pedestrian safety concerns, and nuisance complaints regarding stray animals, illegal burning, illegal dumping, and zoning violations.
To assist constituents in resolving their issues, and depending on the matter, our office has reached out to the Saipan Mayor’s Office, Zoning Office, Department of Finance, Department of Commerce, Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. including the Bureau of Environmental Health and Women, Infants, and Children, Nutrition Assistance Program, Commonwealth Utilities Corp., Department of Public Works, Northern Marianas Housing Corp., CNMI Medicaid Office, CNMI Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and the U.S. Delegate’s Office, among others.
Sometimes we obtain updates for constituents on the status of their pending applications, disputes, or appeals. Other times we make referrals to social service agencies and nonprofit organizations for constituents in need, particularly those impacted by disaster, austerity cuts, unemployment, food insecurity, and eviction. We also follow up with government departments and agencies on requests for the delivery of public services or public works projects, or the enforcement of CNMI laws and regulations.
When the first cases of COVID-19 reached the Northern Marianas and much of the government including the Legislature shut down, our office began teleworking almost immediately. We attended online and teleconference briefings with CHCC, COVID-19 task force, Public School System, and others, and we shared information on social media. We addressed numerous inquiries from constituents about the government’s COVID -19 response and the ever-changing and sometimes confusing executive orders and protocols. We communicated with individuals in quarantine and their families, residents trying to return to the Northern Marianas, students and parents wondering how and when they would safely resume their education or avail of school meals again, and residents concerned about curfew hours, closed parks, congested business establishments and panic buying. We also reached out to social service organizations to learn about their COVID -19 protocols for delivering relief to people in need of food or rental assistance, and we shared that information and made referrals for constituents as well.
I do not take a legislative allowance, nor do I lease a vehicle or have a government-paid cell phone. The only government travel I have done during this term has been to Rota and Tinian for public hearings and sessions. These brief trips have included airfare, hotel, and ground transportation costs that were paid out of our office operational account. I paid for my own meals and incidentals and did not take a per diem.
Over the past two years, our office has employed one full-time office manager, one full-time outreach/constituent services coordinator, and two interns. We have also contracted the part-time services of independent legal counsel, and shared a part-time community worker with another office. Late last year, we contracted a professional development trainer to conduct a workshop in customer service and office management at the Legislature. The training was open to all staff from individual member offices and from the Legislative Bureau, and was well-attended.
At this time, our office has one regular full-time employee: office manager Ms. Tokie Mojica, who oversees administrative responsibilities as well as constituent services/casework.
To be continued tomorrow
Christina Marie Sablan (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Christina Marie Sablan is a member of the CNMI House of Representatives of the 21st Legislature, representing Precinct 2.