Supplemental disaster funding assured


Rep. Nita Lowey (New York), the incoming Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has told Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) that she will support supplemental disaster funding for recovery in the Marianas. The two spoke on Saturday morning.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund gives substantial assistance to individuals and to rebuild public infrastructure, there are other federal programs that could help the Marianas and that may need special appropriations.

Sablan has already asked Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to work together to formulate a package of requests to congressional appropriators.

“Needs assessments from the governor will be critical to set the level of funding that we ask for,” Sablan said. “The congressional office staff in Washington, [D.C.] has already identified about 20 separate programs, above and beyond what FEMA can supply. Now, we need the governor to help fill in the blanks on how much funding is needed for a full recovery.

“I know the governor is focused on the day-to-day recovery, but I remain hopeful that he will find time to work with us on quantifying needs. Congress could act quickly on a supplemental disaster bill to cover hurricanes Florence and Michael and wildfires in the West,” said Sablan. “We want to be sure to have Yutu assistance be part of that emergency bill. And I am grateful to incoming chair Nita Lowey for her commitment to help us.”

One item on Sablan’s list is food stamp funding. The Commonwealth has received permission to use some $9 million of the $30.5 million that Sablan included in the Agricultural Act of 2014 for disaster food assistance on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. But the money was originally to be used for the regular food stamp program to increase benefits and make more families eligible.

“We do not want to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Sablan said. “We need that disaster food aid now, of course; but at the end of the day Congress should pay for it separately. We want to be able to keep benefits up and go through with the plan to increase eligibility. So, replacing the money we need to make that possible will be one of my supplemental appropriations requests.”

Sablan is also requesting more funding for the Medicaid program that serves about 15,000 people in the Commonwealth. Both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands received more Medicaid money and a waiver of the local match for a year and three-quarters after last year’s hurricanes in the Caribbean.

“Puerto Rico also got funding for Army Corps projects in the disaster bill. And that is a precedent I want to use,” said Sablan. “We just got a $20 million authorization for Saipan water projects renewed in the Water Resources Development Act of 2018. That is one Army Corps project that could be funded. And Tinian still needs a breakwater to protect its harbor from future typhoons.”

Sablan leaves for Washington on Wednesday morning to follow up with face-to-face meetings with appropriators. A waiver of the local cost-share for FEMA grants, authority to rebuild infrastructure by burying electrical lines and using other resiliency measures, and administrative flexibility for disaster unemployment assistance are other items on his agenda. (PR)

Press Release
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