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Steps taken to address COVID-19 issues

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Dear Congressman Gregorio C. Sablan: Thank you for your letter dated March 16, 2020 suggesting that I request the President to make a disaster declaration for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

However, I write to inform you that on March 3, 2020, I wrote to President Trump to inform him of the impending crisis in the CNMI that is being driven by the dramatic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak and sought his assistance to mobilize federal resources to aid the CNMI government in its response to this pandemic.

On March 13, 2020, in response to my communication and pursuant to the Nationwide Emergency Declaration issued by the President, the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency was authorized to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the designated areas. Specifically, FEMA has been authorized to provide emergency protective measures (Category B) not authorized under other federal statutes, including direct federal assistance, under the Public Assistance program at 75% federal funding.

By way of the presidential declaration, FEMA Region IX administrator Robert Fenton was directed to inform me that the President’s declaration covers all areas in the CNMI affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, I am pleased to inform you that we have already started working closely with FEMA since March 13 to access all the federal resources available to the CNMI pursuant to the Presidential declaration, including my request for the mobilization of the Incident Management Acton Team (IMAT-A) to assist the CNMI in its emergency protective measures and response coordination to combat COVID-19.

Now, I would like to address your communication dated March 18, 2020 suggesting that I request Economic Injury Disaster Loan Declarations from the U.S. Small Business Administration as provided by the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that the President signed into law on March 6.

Please note that on March 13, I wrote to SBA administrator Jovita Carranza and requested her assistance to make EIDL loans available to small businesses and non-profit organizations in the CNMI. In response to my request to Ms. Carranza, SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance has been working in coordination with my chief of staff to reach out to our business community to fulfill the eligibility requirement of submitting EIDL worksheets from small businesses and non-profit organizations.

In fact, I am pleased to inform you that my office has already engaged our business community through organizations such as the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corporation. Affected businesses are now completing the required worksheets and, upon submission to my office, these worksheets will be submitted to SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance for review and approval.

I am looking forward to this much needed access to disaster loan assistance to be made available to our small businesses and non-profit organizations. Whole-of-government efforts being put forward by the Trump Administration in this time of great need will help fragile economies like ours minimize economic disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is undoubtedly a challenging time for our Commonwealth. However, I am confident in our collective ability to overcome this challenge and ensure that the delivery of essential public services will continue to be met for the benefit of the people of the Commonwealth. With our brothers and sisters in Guam already experiencing the impact of this global pandemic, the full effort of this government has been placed on the safety and health of our people, especially those most vulnerable to this disease.

As we continue our preemptive measures to strengthen our healthcare system, please be aware that recommendations of the CNMI government as to the economic and fiscal needs in the aftermath of COVID-19’s deep impact to our economy are forthcoming.

Ralph DLG Torres (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Ralph DLG. Torres is the 9th governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the youngest governor in the United States.

Ralph DLG Torres (Special to the Saipan Tribune)

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