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    Monday, November 19, 2018-12:40:08P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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OPINION | Open letter to U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan

THANK you for your letter acknowledging the hard work currently being done by our dedicated local and federal first responders during this ongoing recovery period in the wake of Super Typhoon Yutu. 

This has been a critical time for our Commonwealth, but the progress of our recovery has been the product of strong partnerships my administration has fostered over the last several years in order to rebuild a stronger, more resilient Marianas. 

Before Yutu’s landfall, I proactively requested a Presidential Emergency Declaration to mobilize critical federal response resources into the Commonwealth. Hours after the storm passed, I requested an expedited Presidential Disaster Declaration that immediately provided a wide range of federal assistance programs for impacted residents and public infrastructure, including funds for both emergency and permanent work. 

The amount of federal support on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota has been phenomenal before, during, and after both Super Typhoon Yutu and Typhoon Mangkhut. The accelerated support by our partners from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Defense, and other federal agencies has been instrumental in the execution of life-saving and life-sustaining missions, the restoration of critical infrastructure and public services, and in the assistance of our private sector partners’ revitalization of our economy. 

As a result of my direct requests to FEMA, the Commonwealth has been approved to receive the following types of assistance through FEMA’s Individual and Households Programs or IHP: 

  • • Rental Assistance — approved. Allows eligible individuals and households to secure temporary housing while repairs are being made to the primary residence or while transitioning to permanent housing.
  • • Critical Needs Assistance — approved. For households with immediate or serious needs due to being displaced from their private dwelling.
  • • Home Repair Assistance — approved. To help repair an owner-occupied primary residence, utilities, and residential structure, including privately-owned access routes to a safe and sanitary living or functioning condition.
  • • Home Replacement Assistance — approved. To help homeowners replace their uninsured or underinsured primary residence, destroyed by a disaster.
  • • IHP Other Needs Assistance — approved. Individuals and households may receive financial assistance for other disaster-caused expenses and serious needs. This includes personal property and vehicle repair/replacement for households not referred to or approved for SBA and assistance for uninsured medical, dental, or funeral expenses and disaster related increased costs for child care.
  • • Disaster Legal Services — approved. Provides legal assistance to low-income individuals, who prior to or as a result of the disaster, are unable to secure legal services adequate to meet their disaster-related needs.
  • • CNMI-FEMA Temporary Emergency Tent and Roofing Installation Support or TETRIS Program — approved. Provides temporary sheltering to storm-impacted residents who sustained damage to their roofs. This has been ongoing through a CNMI Tenting Program. The full TETRIS program is now slowly being rolled out starting with critically impacted villages in the southern portion of Saipan and Tinian.

This list of approved FEMA requests is continuously being updated as we move forward with our recovery efforts. The work being done by our local first responders with our FEMA partners has been instrumental in getting this current list of programs approved. As our assessments continue, additional programs that encompass survivor transportation assistance, transitional sheltering assistance, financial reimbursement, and permanent housing construction are being requested and are pending approval. 

We have also been proactive through our local departments and agencies to activate other disaster assistance programs through other federal agency partners:

  • • Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance — approved. Low-interest loans to businesses, renters, and homeowners affected by declared disasters.
  • • Disaster Medical Assistance Teams — activated. DMAT teams from the US Department of Health and Human Services have been activated since the beginning of recovery to assist the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation in medical outreach in vulnerable areas on the southern side of Saipan and the island of Tinian. The Office of the Governor and CHCC have been working closely to address medical issues within shelters and on both islands.
  • • National Dislocated Worker Grant — approved. $2.8 million in grant funding from the US Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration for unemployment benefits and reemployment services to individuals who have become unemployed as a result of a major disaster. The CNMI Department of Labor has started accepting applications for debris work and other disaster-related employment opportunities.
  • • Office of Insular Affairs: Technical Assistance for Unmet Needs — pending. Through my direct communications with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, we are in the process of receiving financial assistance for relief through the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs. This is pending, but we are optimistic that we will receive notification very soon.
  • • Disaster Unemployment Assistance — pending. Provides unemployment benefits and reemployment services to individuals who have become unemployed as a result of major disaster. Dialogue begun immediately after the storm between the CNMI Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Labor. Because of the stringent requirements of the program, the CNMI DOL has been working to ensure that employment data and labor statistics are presented accurately for approval. We are optimistic in our application process.
  • • Emergency Food Assistance and Supplemental Disaster Assistance — pending. The CNMI Department of Community and Cultural Affairs through the Nutrition Assistance Program has proactively applied for disaster food assistance and has been in multiple conference calls with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. We expect to receive an official notification within the next few days.

We look forward to receiving updates from our federal agency partners on the progress of our requests and applications for additional disaster assistance. The conversations have been fruitful as we are working in full cooperation with FEMA, the Department of Defense, and other federal agency partners on disaster assistance.  

This whole recovery period is my number one priority, and as Governor, I will continue to cooperate with our federal partners to ensure our life-saving and life-sustaining missions, the restoration of critical infrastructure and public services, and ensuring that every impacted resident can return to a safe, secured, and sanitary place to live and feel some sense of normalcy. 

So far, we received about $260 million for public infrastructure repair and replacement under the FEMA Public Assistance program alone. This amount does not include amounts for the programs approved under the Individual Assistance program and the Hazard Mitigation program. We expect to see a significant increase in federal funding for the Commonwealth as we move forward in our recovery efforts. 

The key to this recovery is direct and honest communication between our federal partners and my administration. I know this season is clouded by political intentions, but in the interest of expediency and service to this recovery, I would appreciate it if you talked to me directly instead of having to receive official correspondences through the media. It has been 16 days since the storm, and you have never once visited me in my office to offer your help for our people. In fact, you never once called me directly in providing support to our response or recovery efforts. Before the storm, I spoke to FEMA Administrator Brock Long and FEMA Region IX Deputy Administrator Bob Fenton. They offered support, and I committed our cooperation. All I have received are letters from you instead of direct dialogue to serve our people during this critical time. Our people do not want any more letters. They want action that translates to outcomes. 

While I have not received a call from you during our response and recovery efforts, I will not let politics get in the way of doing the right thing for our people. I have given you a list of the approved programs that we have proactively requested from FEMA and our federal partners, and I will remain on standby for assistance you can provide through your office because we have done our part in cooperating with our federal partners. 

As our current delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, it is your responsibility to advocate for our voices here in the CNMI to Washington.