Sen. Manglona: Federal funds should allow NMI to pay retirees’ 25%

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THE federal financial assistance provided to the CNMI in light of the Covid-19 pandemic should allow the Commonwealth government to pay 25% of the retirees’ pensions, Sen. Paul A. Manglona said in a letter to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres.

Last month, the governor informed the retirees that the government could no longer pay their 25% due to the lawsuit authorized by the Board of Education, which wants more funding for the Public School System.

Manglona told the governor that since PSS stands to receive federal monies under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act, the CNMI government can use local funds to take care of the retirees’ 25%.

On Tuesday morning, Senate President Victor Hocog said he, the governor, Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios, Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig, and other lawmakers had a “very productive meeting.”

The retirees may again receive their 25% beginning May 15, Hocog said.

Under the settlement agreement, the government must pay 75% of a retiree’s benefits. But with the improvement of the economy due to the entry of new investors and a rise in tourism arrivals, the CNMI government had also been paying the 25% of the retirees’ benefits.

Super Typhoon Yutu, which hit Saipan and Tinian in Oct. 2018, and the ongoing Covid-19 crisis have significantly weakened the local economy, resulting in a steep drop in government revenue.

In his letter to the governor, Manglona said, the non-payment of the 25% has “imposed a significant financial hardship on our manamko’ who rely solely on their retirement checks to make a living and pay for their medical needs.”

He said many people have been calling him and other CNMI leaders and are seeking help.

“This morning, I received another long-distance call from an 86-year-old CNMI retiree temporarily living with relatives in Arizona for medical reasons. She is receiving a mere $275 every 15 days. She called to complain about the exorbitant monthly cost of all her medication and how this pension reduction affected her ability to meet minimum living expenses. I can only imagine the struggle other retirees are experiencing as well,” Manglona said.

The senator said the CNMI government stands to receive under the CARES Act $36 million for pandemic response, plus at least $10 million in reimbursement to the general fund. The $36 million, he said, should provide the resources to pay the many obligations associated with ensuring the safety and well-being of the CNMI community against Covid-19.

The U.S. Department of Education, Manglona said, has also made available $27,940,945 in CARES Act Education Stabilization Funds of which PSS will receive $23.2 million.

He said PSS has “clarified” that it will take months before a court decision can be reached in the lawsuit it filed against the CNMI government.

“The PSS clarification on the injunction and the availability of new budgetary resources now provide us with an avenue to assist our retirees and make our manamko’ whole with their full pension,” Manglona said.



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