Kilili gets funding for NMI added to US Senate bill

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — A third coronavirus relief bill, passed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday now includes funding for state and territory governments to meet the costs of the coronavirus, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan says.

The congressman has made direct payments to local governments one of his top priorities for responding to the economic impact of the virus. Sablan led a letter from all insular area delegates making that point, again, Wednesday; and funding was added, a change from the original legislation, introduced by Republican leader Mitch McConnell Thursday last week. The Commonwealth and other insular governments receive about $700 per capita in the current bill. The U.S. average is about $460.

The new Senate bill increases funding for insular schools from $100 million to as much as $153.75 million, another priority for Sablan. “Just like the school money we put in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, during my first term in Congress, this money will keep PSS teachers and staff employed and make sure our children continue their education,” the congressman said.

Sablan also fought for direct payments to workers, laid-off as Marianas businesses close because of the coronavirus. The Senate bill gives these unemployed workers in the Marianas a benefit equal to the national average unemployment compensation benefit (about $360 a week), plus an additional federal supplement of $600 per week. The benefit is available for up to 39 weeks, but not beyond the end of 2020. The Commonwealth government will administer the payments with 100 percent federal funding.

There is also a one-time tax rebate to put money in consumers’ pockets and revive the economy. Individual taxpayers, nationwide, including in the Marianas, will receive up to $1,200 and joint filers up to $2,400, with an additional $500 per child. The payments are reduced beyond certain high-income limits. As with the unemployment benefit, the federal government will cover the full cost, another point Sablan insisted on throughout the negotiations.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, additionally provides loans for small businesses and loan forgiveness for those that retain employees during the coronavirus crisis. More than $150 billion is injected into the health care system for equipment, supplies, and facilities for patients with coronavirus and for research into treatments. And the Marianas will share another $200 million in food assistance with Puerto Rico and American Samoa. Last week’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Public Law 116-127, awarded the three insular areas $100 million.

“This is all good news for the people of the Marianas,” Sablan said. The congressman returned to Washington last week ahead of schedule to better represent the Marianas, as fast-moving decisions were being made in what is the largest spending bill in U.S. history.

“I urge everyone at home to follow all the guidelines to stay healthy and keep the Marianas free of coronavirus. If we stay healthy and with the financial assistance in today’s bill, our economy will eventually revive, and our lives return to normal.”

The CARES Act, H.R. 748, is scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives on Friday morning. President Trump has said he will sign the bill.

Additional legislation to guide the United States through the coronavirus crisis is already under discussion.

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