Finance chief to House panel: Lessons were learned from Yutu

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SECRETARY of Finance David DLG Atalig assured lawmakers on Tuesday that the CNMI government has learned its lessons from Super Typhoon Yutu.

He was referring to the experience of the Commonwealth in requesting federal reimbursements.

Rep. Ralph N. Yumul, chair of the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding, noted that Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements “take time, and part of it is because there [might be] some discrepancies…. That is what my concern is when we expend some of the general funds only to find out that it will not be reimbursed. Then we are back to the same circle again. Are we going to repeat ourselves again?” Yumul asked Atalig during a public meeting last week.

“I just want to assure this body that lessons were learned from Yutu,” Atalig said, “and…those lessons learned are being applied today. I share the same sentiments as this body. I want to try to maximize and get every penny reimbursed, because, as we all know, our general funds and our revenue collection are not meeting the levels that we have…projected in the beginning of the fiscal year.”

David DLG Atalig

Yumul also asked Atalig: “Just for the record, none of the local funding or general fund is being used right now to pay any of the Covid-19 expenses?”

“That is correct today,” Atalig replied, “but in the beginning of the emergency declaration, we did use up to $15 million out of the general fund and resources that I pulled together. However, with the receivables — [from] the CARES Act funding — I was able to reimburse our costs.”

Atalig added, “I have to be careful as secretary of Finance to ensure that the funds that I use using CARES Act money are not the same dollars being requested for [FEMA] reimbursement.”

Atalig said he and the governor’s authorized representative Patrick Guerrero work closely with the Public Assistance Office in seeking approval for the worksheets and the awarding process. He said they adjust, when necessary, based on what is reimbursable by FEMA and what is not.

He said a lot of the CARES Act funds have to be set aside for anticipated additional personal protective equipment, or PPEs, taking into consideration a model presented by the Covid-19 task force, and reviewed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, and the secretary of Finance himself.

“What if we need more equipment than we have? We need to put some money aside. These funds are usable all the way to December 31, 2020. We have to be mindful that if this pandemic continues, these are the only funds, based on this CARES Act, that we have available to utilize,” Atalig said.

He added that local expenses that are not reimbursable by FEMA are assessed based on urgency and need. Should an expense be deemed neither urgent nor needed, it is not allowed, Atalig said.



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