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Federal help is on its way, governor says

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres on Friday announced that President Donald J. Trump has approved the governor’s March 3, 2020 request for federal assistance to combat the Covid-19 outbreak.

On March 13, 2020, Torres said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was officially authorized to provide appropriate assistance and to provide emergency protective measures (Category B) not authorized under other federal statutes, including direct federal assistance, under the Public Assistance program.

Torres also announced his ongoing efforts to secure U.S. Small Business Administration assistance so it can provide economic injury disaster loans for CNMI’s businesses that have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak and the loss of tourists coming into the Commonwealth.

In a statement the governor said, “FEMA Region IX Administrator Robert Fenton, who has been a strong partner of ours during typhoons, directly informed that the President’s declaration covers all of our islands, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, for Covid-19 response.”

Torres said the CNMI “[has] 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 Assistance Team to assist the CNMI in its emergency protective measures and response coordination to combat Covid-19.”

The governor added, “I am also working with the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide economic injury disaster loans for our affected businesses. Through the support of our businesses, we have successfully completed submission of required survey worksheets to SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance. I am further pleased to report that these worksheets have been approved and accepted. We are now awaiting SBA issuance of its declaration to begin offering economic injury disaster loans to our impacted businesses and non-profit organizations.”

The governor said, “Federal support at my request is well on its way, so we are not alone in this crisis.”

The crisis, he added, “is bigger than politics and bigger than ourselves. It is a challenging time for our Commonwealth, but I know that if we all work together, help each other out, and promote social distancing, we can beat this virus.”

Torres also expressed his appreciation to the leadership of both houses of the Legislature in assisting in securing additional federal assistance for the Marianas.

“I want to thank Senate President Victor B. Hocog, Speaker BJ T. Attao, and the leadership of both the House and Senate for their support and commitment in working with my office to secure this federal assistance from the President. Both houses are also committed to leverage local funding for our public health emergency,” the governor said.

“The President and FEMA have been strong partners for the Marianas for several years now, and we look forward to working with them to strengthen our response to the Covid-19 outbreak. My administration and the Legislature’s leadership will continue to work with our federal partners to secure additional funding to protect our community from Covid-19,” Torres added.

Federal declaration

For their part, members of the House minority bloc have joined U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan in urging the governor to request for federal declaration of a major disaster and an economic injury disaster for the CNMI.

In a joint letter to the governor, House Minority Leader Edwin Propst, Reps. Tina Sablan, Sheila Babauta, Edmund Villagomez, Donald Manglona, and Richard Lizama said the Commonwealth is facing a public health emergency and economic catastrophe of “unprecedented proportions” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They believe that the governor’s recent declaration of public health emergency, and President Trump’s declaration of national public health emergency “have certainly helped to free up resources necessary to contain and mitigate the spread of Covid-19.”

“We commend you for acting quickly to declare the emergency even without confirmed Covid-19 cases in the Commonwealth, especially given the limited number of test kits nationwide and in our region,” the minority bloc said.

But they said significantly greater resources would be available under a federally declared major disaster, including a wide range of programs that are not available under a state of emergency.

Disaster program, they said, include financial aid for individual households, public assistance, unemployment benefits, small business relief, legal services, crisis counseling, and hazard mitigation to prevent long-term risk to life and property.

A federal declaration of a major disaster is initiated with a gubernatorial request to the president, they said.

They noted that President Trump has indicated that he would be inclined to approve gubernatorial requests for a major disaster declaration under the Stafford Act in connection with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Governor, please make that request to the president for a major disaster declaration,” the minority bloc said.


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