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House panel to discuss Covid-19 funding with governor’s authorized representative

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THE House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding chaired by Rep. Ralph N. Yumul reconvened on Thursday morning to discuss further the federal funding that the Commonwealth has received to address the Covid-19 crisis.

During their discussions, the committee members agreed upon several matters, including the decision to send a second letter to the governor’s authorized representative, Patrick Guerrero.

The first letter to Guerrero was a formal request for the governor’s authorized representative to appear before the committee and provide an overview of the federal Covid-19 funding that the Commonwealth has received and continues to receive, as well as to answer any and all questions that the committee may have in regards to this particular funding.

The second letter will contain a number of questions relating to hazardous pay, overtime, contracts, and local matching.

Members of the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding, along with their legal counsel, meet to discuss  the CNMI’s federal Covid-19 funding. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

 Committee members want the second letter out as soon as possible so as to provide Guerrero with a reasonable amount of time to prepare any and all documentation needed to respond to the committee inquiries.

“If there is any possibility of us getting documents ahead of time, I think that that would be helpful, so that we can start to look them over, and formulate more refined questions or follow-up questions for him next week,” said committee member Rep. Tina Sablan.

She added, “We should encourage him to respond in writing, ahead of the meeting, so that our conversation will be much more productive.”

The committee members emphasized the importance of transparency to avoid a “mismanagement” of funds.

“We want accountability,” said another committee member, Rep. Joseph Leepan Guerrero. “People are screaming at us left and right. This is money that must be applied accordingly to the respective requirements of the feds. We need to be mindful that we are going to be explaining ourselves to the community if this money is squandered or wasted. [W]e are trying to tell the administration, you know, we need to work together. We need to collaboratively work together, so we can move forward. You know, we've seen Soudelor, we've seen Mangkhut, we've seen Yutu. Up to now, those remain questionable as to the expenditures. With this Covid, we need to make sure that it does not repeat itself."

Asked if the expenditure of CARES and other federal funds is subject to federal review and must comply with federal rules, Rep. Ivan Blanco said, “Yes.”

The meeting between the committee and the governor’s authorized representative is scheduled for Wednesday, May 13.

The committee has agreed to schedule similar meetings with the governor’s chief of staff, Angel Demapan, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Finance to make formal inquiries about the administration’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act expenditure plan.

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