Despite concerns in the U.S. mainland regarding the legality of the executive order that U.S. President Donald J. Trump signed last week to help those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Torres administration is looking into it to see how the CNMI could benefit from the new policies.
Trump’s executive order covers four concerns: a $400 weekly unemployment benefit; the deferment of payroll tax obligation from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31; assistance to renters and homeowners; and the extension of student loan payment relief.
Speaking at the radio news briefing Tuesday, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said he will not be challenging the order, that he fully supports it, and that it will make a big difference for the CNMI.
“My staff and the departments…are looking as to how the CNMI can benefit from it, and we will be informing the community as to what is the next step moving forward. I want to move forward with the understanding that it’s an executive order. If we avail of it, then we should push hard and get our people some needed funds,” he said.
The governor said that they have been in talks with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will be making all the proper requests, also to the appropriate departments that covers tax, renters, and homeowners.
One of the concerns raised about Trump’s executive order is that states have to ask the White House to participate in the lost wages assistance program and the CNMI government has to shoulder 25% of the cost.
“[What] we’re [going to] look first is the availability of the matching [funds], second and simultaneously, is to look at the [numbers] here—how many renters, homeowners need to be accommodated, and then we find out exactly what is the estimated amount,” he said. “Then we will decide whether we’re able to afford everybody, and if not, then there’s got to be a guideline or a system moving forward.”
Torres also referred to earlier concerns on evictions, following furloughs due to hotels and businesses closing, given that there are no tourists on the island because of the pandemic.
“I remember having issue here when those talks about eviction, those talks about having a law to prevent eviction, but then homeowners are also making an issue that they have mortgages as well. When you have an executive order like this, to help renters, and home owners, that helps our people across the board,” he said.