NMI seeks more federal help

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CNMI Washington Office director Jason Osborne on Friday said the Torres-Palacios administration is trying to get more federal assistance possible even as the second stimulus talks remain at a standstill in the U.S. Congress.

He added that this is not unexpected because the general elections are fast approaching.

“There have been talks about a second round of stimulus,” he said during a press briefing on KKMP radio. “The House passed a version. The Senate is resisting the version that the House had passed. They [the senators] want a scaled down version.”

Osborne said the Trump administration is “trying as best as they can to send funds out, given the [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act and the previous [stimuli], as well as some of their discretionary grant programs.”

He noted that the U.S. is still operating under a continuing resolution, which will fund the federal government through Dec. 11.

“My personal opinion is that that continuing resolution will be extended further probably until after the inauguration of the next administration, whether it's…Trump or Biden, as well as the swearing in of the new House and Senate members in the middle of the month,” Osborne said.

“Our focus right now from the governor's office is really to try and continue to work with [the Department of Homeland Security], the White House, the Department of Labor to try and get some more relief as best we can on the CW-1 issue, particularly [the] touchback [policy].

“We did get an extension thanks to the governor's efforts. We got somewhat of a waiver, extending out until 2023, which saved us quite a bit, saves businesses quite a big headache. We're also trying to push out some more [Environmental Protection Agency] grant funding, so we can get some more money into the CNMI, so that's kind of our report right now,” Osborne said.

The reality, he added, is that the U.S. Congress is not doing much right now in terms of passing standalone bills.

The focus in the House has been on the stimulus measure and  appropriations bills, he added.

The U.S. Senate, for its part, is  focused on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I anticipate that unless a deal can be reached on the stimulus within the next week, which it doesn't sound like it will, then we're not going to have any further legislation that can be voted on and passed [before] election day,” Osborne said.

However, Osborne said, “we still have a couple more [grants] that are in the process…. The governor recently submitted a letter to the Department of Commerce asking on the status. Hopefully within the next week or so, we'll have an answer on that and have some more money coming from EPA.”

“We’re also trying to talk to [the federal government] about potential funding for [the Marianas Visitors Authority] within the tourism aspect because the previous legislation didn't allow for MVA to receive the funding — not MVA specifically, but the type of organization that MVA is.”

Osborne added, “I know there's been a lot of talk about the governor's relationship with this [Trump] administration and one thing I can say confidently is that in the 11 years that I've been working with the CNMI here in Washington D.C., this administration…has actually been more involved in the CNMI specifically than either of the previous two administrations.”

Osborne said the ability of the  CNMI “to be able to get into the White House through the intergovernmental affairs department and actually get some things accomplished has been phenomenal.”

Recalling his experience with the previous U.S. administration, Osborne noted that a White House representative at the time could not even pronounce the name of the CNMI.

In contrast, he said, the Trump administration has gone out of its way to actually include the CNMI in discussions, adding that he and the governor participate every week on a phone call with all of the governors and the White House Covid-19 Task Force.

“It is disconcerting to see folks comment that the governor is in cahoots with this administration and all the negative things that they may want to say about President Trump. The governor has been so focused on the CNMI. Everything else, quite frankly, is rather noise. We're trying to filter through that and actually get some positive things done for the CNMI,” he said.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, for his part, thanked Osborne for his efforts.

He said it is very difficult to try to push things without “the right people and the right relationships.”

The governor added, “I've said that in the beginning, even with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and even with any other federal partners, that it is that relationship and trust that you have that makes success possible.”

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