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House panel looks into Covid-19 payroll records

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THE House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster-Related Funding has received the documents it requested from the governor’s authorized representative or GAR, Patrick Guerrero.

Rep. Ralph N. Yumul, the committee chairman, said the documents include the payroll records of government employees receiving pay during the CNMI Covid-19 response.

The documents detail which employees have been paid overtime, and by how much.

The administration earlier said that some of the governor’s cabinet members who have been working 24/7 to aid in the Commonwealth response to the global pandemic have applied for OT pay, but this is subject to federal approval.

Yumul said the records provided were from the eighth government pay period to the 11th. He added that the government is currently on its 14th pay period.

The special committee began reviewing the documents on Monday.

The documents indicate that over $2 million was paid from March to April to some cabinet members and government employees.

The amount of Covid-19 “supplemental pay” for cabinet members in one pay period ranged from $96 to $2,300. 

 

 

Rep. Ralph N. Yumul, chair of the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster-Related Funding, on Monday examines some of the payroll records for the Covid-19 disaster. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

The documents also included a memorandum from the Office of Personnel Management in March, waiving the exempt status of some cabinet members and government employees so they could be eligible to collect overtime pay.

The memo was in response to the request of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management chief who asked OPM to waive the exempt status of certain cabinet members and government employees.

Among these  cabinet members were special assistant for HSEM Gerald J. Deleon Guerrero, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Robert Guerrero, Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig, Department of Public Works Secretary James Ada and Chief of Staff Angel Demapan.

Yumul said there are other documents that lawmakers have to review. He believes that there are other government officials  who have received OT and/or seeking approval for OT authorization.

Asked for comment, Press Secretary Kevin Bautista said:

“No ‘illegal’ Covid-19 pay was paid out to exempt employees and exempt employees who happen to be on the cabinet.

“Due to the evolving nature and unpredictable threat of Covid-19 in the CNMI, as well as the shortage of critical personnel within the Commonwealth government for sufficient response, all exempt employees involved in the CNMI's Covid-19 response were properly reassigned to fulfill Covid-19 related work, including properly filling out Category B documentation with FEMA that outlines their reassigned work in line with federal reimbursement requirements.

“To be clear, there is no 2.5 rate being paid out to exempt employees — whether they're in the cabinet or not. All exempt employees assigned to the CNMI's Covid-19 response was paid out at a rate of 1.0 ‘straight time’ for specific hours worked during the Covid-19 operation. The funding source of these payments for all employees under the Covid-19 response — both exempt and covered — is the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund to local and state governments for necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency. The governor, the governor's authorized representative, and the secretary of Finance are committed to making sure that accountability of ALL federal funds for this Covid-19 response is transparent and clear for both the Legislature and the general public.

“The enactment of the CARES Act also included the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which the governor advocated for the eligibility of furloughed government employees. It has been the goal since the announcement of PUA that the CNMI's 500-plus furloughed employees will be justifiably taken care of through the PUA and FPUC. They have never been forgotten, and it was Governor Torres and the CNMI Department of Labor who sought proper guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure they are covered.

“Front liners have gotten paid, and furloughed government employees will be properly paid under PUA. This global pandemic has been an evolving situation and unpredictable threat, and it took intense leveraging of very limited government resources to properly protect the CNMI from Covid-19. This has resulted in the strongest response in the entire Pacific, as well as the flattest curve in the United States. The Commonwealth government intends to maintain the momentum of protecting the people of the Marianas moving forward.”

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