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Kilili: Paid sick leave, Medicaid increase, food aid for Marianas

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — Workers in the Marianas will get paid sick leave for themselves or to care for a family member, including children at home because of school closures.

The Commonwealth will receive more Medicaid money to treat the ill. And more food aid will be available to help Marianas households that lose income due to lay-offs or hours reduction, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan said Wednesday, shortly after President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The House of Representatives passed the bill at 1 a.m. on Saturday with overwhelming bipartisan support, but the Republican-led Senate delayed acting until Wednesday.

The Families First Act also makes coronavirus testing free for anyone, with or without insurance. In the Marianas, however, and many areas of the country there are limited supplies to take test samples from persons, who show symptoms of the disease. Nationwide, laboratories are straining to analyze the samples. Currently, samples from the Marianas are sent to Guam for analysis.

Sablan said the congressional office is working cooperatively with the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. to expedite certification of a lab in the Marianas. And the Commonwealth was awarded $370,000 last week that can be used to pay for testing equipment and supplies. The funds came from the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act the House passed on March 4 and the President signed on March 6.

Loans for small business, non-profits

That first Act of Congress in response to the coronavirus also provides a funding lifeline for cash-strapped small businesses and non-profits. The Small Business Administration is authorized to loan up to $7 billion, nationwide, at low interest rates, if businesses are in a geographic area economically impacted by the disease.

Sablan wrote to Gov. Ralph Torres earlier this week urging the Governor to apply for the necessary declaration from SBA administrator to qualify businesses in the Marianas for the loans. Governor Torres reported he was working on the application.

To date 23 states and the District of Columbia have received approval. Turn-around time, once a governor sends an application, is 24 to 72 hours, SBA told the congressional office on Wednesday. The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program can provide each business up to $2 million.

Third economic relief bill being drafted

Sablan said that Congress and the White House are already preparing a third legislative response, as the coronavirus crisis deepens across the country. Sablan introduced legislation providing operating funds to the Commonwealth government on March 5. He wants more direct aid to states and insular areas, losing revenue because of the coronavirus, to be included in the next spending package.

Sablan is also supporting relief funding for airlines and other businesses critical to the tourism industry.

The congressman returned to Washington on Wednesday to advocate personally for full inclusion of the Marianas, as Congress continues its response to the health and economic impact of the coronavirus.

Direct payments to individuals

Sablan said he also wants direct payments from the federal government to individuals everywhere in America to make up for lost income, as restaurants, retail stores, and businesses throughout the economy turn close their doors and lay off workers. “Seventy percent of GDP is consumer spending,” Sablan said. “If people stop spending, our economy grinds to a halt; and it will be difficult to start up again.

“People need to have money in their pockets — for the sake of the economy and to take care of their family’s needs.”

One federal program that helps those out of work or underemployed because of the coronavirus kicked in today. The U.S. Department of Labor announced $100 million is available for Dislocated Worker Grants. The Marianas Department of Labor is familiar with the program, which it administered after Super Typhoon Yutu. The grants pay to put eligible workers into temporary jobs or training.

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