American Rescue Plan seen to help situation of affected employees
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios met with the leadership of the Legislature yesterday morning to discuss the termination of 180 furloughed government employees and to talk about revenue-generating bills that are needed right now.
In an interview after the two-hour meeting at the Office of the Governor conference room, Palacios said they’re looking at the many challenges facing the CNMI in terms of funding and revenue.
Palacios said the House and the Senate leaderships are recommending some things that they’re going to do to generate funds for the government.
They also discussed the fate of the 180 furloughed government employees who are facing outright termination from their jobs.
“So we were just sitting down and discussed what the options are and what kind of legislations will be needed for revenue-generation,” Palacios said.
He said both the House and the Senate are going to go over the many items that were put on the table.
“We’ll be meeting with them again,” he said.
When asked if there is a possibility of recalling these 180 furloughed employees, Palacios said he does not want to preempt Torres and the leaders of the Legislature. “But we’re very optimistic. Very, very optimistic that we can do that,” he said, adding that one option is the American Rescue Plan and or the CARES Act legislation that is making its way through the U.S. Congress.
“That’s a very hopeful sight,” the lieutenant governor said.
The American Rescue Plan, which is now going through the committee approval process in the U.S. House of Representatives, is part of the Biden administration’s plan to help states and territories survive the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of that plan is to provide the Northern Marianas $515 million to make up for lost government revenue.
Palacios said that different departments and the Office of Personnel Management are going through a process to determine whether the positions of those furloughed employees are still relevant or not.
“We’re not looking at individuals, we’re looking at positions,” he added. He said the departments and OPM have been working in the past two days on what needs to be done on termination notices, but that he is not sure if such notices have been already handed to the employees.
Palacios said Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig calculated that about $5.6 million in revenue is needed this fiscal year 2021 in order to retain these 180 employees.
“So we’re kind of sitting down and trying to figure out how to source it,” Palacios said.
Citing the Office of Grants Management’s plan to hire 12 furloughed employees using the $10.4 million that the CNMI had already received through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Palacios said it is possible when there are other opportunities and funding sources.
“At the end of the day, we needed to give these folks proper notice because it’s required by law if we don’t have the resources,” he said.
Palacios said they also asked legislative leaders to work on revenue-generating measures.
Asked if the termination notices have already been given to the furloughed employees, press secretary Kevin Bautista said yesterday that OPM is still conducting the individual review process with each department in line with personnel regulations.
In response to Saipan Tribune’s inquiry about the discussion at the meeting about the furloughed employees, House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) said they did discuss the American Rescue Plan and how it can help with the situation. He did not elaborate.
Present for the Senate at the meeting were Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), Sen. Justo Quitugua (R-Saipan) Sen. Vinnie F. Sablan (Ind-Saipan), Sen. Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota), and Sen. Karl Rosario King-Nabors (R-Tinian). For the House, present were Villagomez, Rep. Jonathan Blas Attao (R-Saipan), and Rep. Ralph N. Yumul (R-Saipan).
Atalig was also present.