Governor calls for government unity beyond party lines

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(Office of the Governor) — In the midst of the ongoing work that the governor’s Covid-19 Task Force and Commonwealth Healthcare Center has been doing in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres responded to a letter from the Office of the Minority of the House of Representatives over the weekend and reemphasized his call for working together beyond party lines.

In his letter, Governor Torres reaffirmed that he did send a request for federal assistance to President Donald J. Trump to aid in the CNMI’s ongoing Covid-19 response.

“Thank you for your letter in concert with Delegate Gregorio C. Sablan’s prior correspondences urging my appeal to the President for federal declarations of a Major Disaster and Economic Injury Disaster Loans for our Commonwealth. I received Congressman Sablan’s letter on March 16 suggesting that I request a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Similarly, on March 18, 2020, I received the Congressman’s communication suggesting that I request for an Economic Injury Disaster Declaration. After receiving his second letter, I sent him a response on the same day entailing the following information that he, and as it appears now, you have overlooked,” Governor Torres said in his letter to the minority members.

“On March 3, 2020, nearly two weeks before the Congressman or the minority decided to write to me, I wrote to President Trump informing him of the impending healthcare and financial crises facing the Commonwealth as a result of the dire effects of the Covid-19 global outbreak. Without hesitation, I sought the President’s assistance to mobilize federal resources that would aid our government’s efforts to immediately plan and respond to this pandemic,” he said.

“In acknowledgment of my request and pursuant to the Nationwide Emergency Declaration issued by the President on March 13, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, under the authorization of Title V of the Stafford Act, approved additional assistance for critical emergency measures for the Commonwealth — to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the designated areas,” Governor Torres noted.

Regarding the request for an economic relief for businesses, Governor Torres said that his office had already put in the request. As of Sunday morning, Chamorro Standard Time, the U.S. Small Business Administration approved the governor’s request and opened up the application period.

“On March 19, we successfully completed submission of the required EIDL worksheets to SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance. These worksheets have been approved and accepted… We continue to work collectively with our business community through organizations such as the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corporation,” said Governor Torres.

While the CNMI continues to face uncertain and challenging times, Governor Torres said he is confident that the government will continue to ensure the delivery of essential public services to the people of the Commonwealth.

He thanked the minority for showing interest in working together.

“I am pleased that you now recognize the need to work together beyond party lines and above political grandstanding for the safety, health, and wellbeing of all our citizens and residents. I note that I had requested the House speaker to invite all the members of the House, both leadership and minority, to attend a joint Covid-19 briefing at my office on March 19, a day before the penning of your letter.

“Unfortunately, only two members of the minority chose to show up at this important briefing. For this, I want to recognize Rep. Edmund Villagomez and Rep. Sheila Babauta, for joining us at the briefing and, more importantly, for recognizing the need to work together, beyond party lines. It is my fervent hope that more, if not all of you, will follow suit with Reps. Villagomez and Babauta as we forge ahead with the daunting task of combatting the fiscal and economic challenges we are facing.

“I hope that you will find comfort and solace in knowing that I have already sought the federal assistance you are requesting for long before you asked. It is in this spirit of responsiveness that we exert every effort to ensure that our Commonwealth is equipped with the resources to recover and come back more resilient than ever.

“We will continue to pursue all available federal resources to assist in mitigating the severe impacts Covid-19 has caused on our islands. I want you to know that, similar to the recent major disaster declaration approved for New York, we have already undertaken steps to expand the CNMI’s current disaster declaration to open additional resources in the weeks ahead.

“I note that President Trump himself categorized the New York declaration as ‘unprecedented’ as it was the first time the Stafford Act, a law designed to bring orderly emergency disaster assistance to state and local governments, has been used for a disaster declaration.

“Lt. Governor Palacios and I look forward to your engagement and willingness to work collectively as a government committed to navigating our people out of this devastating economic storm and in pursuit of averting the more catastrophic impacts of Covid-19.”

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