House members inquire about NMI CARES Act funding point of contact

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CERTAIN members of the House of Representatives raised concerns on Thursday relating to the appointment of the governor’s Chief of Staff Angel Demapan as the point of contact for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act funding in the Commonwealth.

On its website, the U.S. Department of the Interior-Office of Insular Areas lists points of contact for each of the insular areas. Some House members noted that each jurisdiction lists a point of contact whose profession is either finance or health-related, with the exception of the CNMI.

“The question is what happened to [governor’s authorized representative] Patrick Guerrero? We are just curious because we were not made aware of this,” said Rep. Ivan Blanco.

House Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao added, “This is news to us.”

Angel Demapan

Rep. Marco Peter also asked, “Where does [Guerrero] play a part in this? Or the Office of Management and Budget? Or the Finance secretary?”

The appointment of Demapan was also noted during the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding meeting on Thursday morning.

The members agreed to formally request that Demapan appear before the committee, alongside the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Finance, to answer questions specifically relating to the administration’s expenditure plan for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act funding for the Commonwealth.

During their discussion, a motion was made to grant committee chair Rep. Ralph Yumul “the authority to issue warrants, subpoenas, administer oaths, and hold individuals in contempt if necessary,” pursuant to House Rule XII Warrants, Subpoenas, Oath, and Contempt and House Rule VII Powers and Authority of the Committee, “in our efforts to ensure accountability and transparency for all the funds coming into the CNMI from both federal and local sources.”

The committee voted unanimously to pass the motion, thus granting the committee chair “blanket authority, with consultation.”

“I am not here to overextend my power,” Yumul said, “but I think it is only justified for the foundation to continue, hopefully, [into] the next Legislature…. This is not just a one-time funding that is coming. There [will be more federal] funding until the end of the year.”

Asked for comment, Demapan issued the following statement:

“Understandably, the lack of understanding from the members about the difference between a point of contact and a governor’s authorized representative [or GAR] seems to be causing confusion over a process that they are not fully aware of.

“First of all, I am not the point of contact for all the CARES Act funds being provided to the CNMI. I am only the point of contact for the $4 million awarded to the CNMI by the Office of Insular Affairs to the Office of the Governor. And since the Office of the Governor is the recipient, I, in my capacity as chief of staff, was designated as point of contact to handle communications for this particular award between the Office of the Governor and OIA.

“Secondly, the $4 million allocated to the CNMI has not been fully approved pending the CNMI’s submission of a Territorial Action Plan [or TAP] to OIA for review and approval. The action plan for the CNMI is still being formulated by a working group being led by CHCC, Homeland Security & Emergency Management, the Covid-19 Task Force, and the Office of Grants Management.

“Until the TAP is reviewed and approved by OIA, the CNMI cannot expend any of the funds awarded to the CNMI. And when the TAP is approved, there will be a succession of financial responsibilities in government that involves the Department of Finance, the Office of Management and Budget, OGM, HSEM, and CHCC.

“The secretary of Finance, in accordance to his sworn duty, will ensure that expenditures are in compliance with the CARES Act and all applicable laws of the Commonwealth.

“With respect to funding that the CNMI expects to be reimbursed from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the GAR, Patrick Guerrero oversees those expenses to ensure that it’s reimbursable and in compliance with FEMA rules and regulations.

“The governor’s authorized representative holds a completely different role focused on dealing with all expenses that involve FEMA and other federal partners in response to the pandemic.

“It is quite clear and convincing that a lack of understanding on the operations of the government and inter-governmental relations with the federal government in times of crisis can translate to a confusion of this sort.

“However, I certainly hope that after today, they will have a better understanding of how things work outside of their realm and, in the end, gain a greater appreciation of the hard work that goes into helping our community combat this pandemic and maintaining our record of flattening the curve more than any other jurisdiction impacted by Covid-19.”

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