DEMOCRATIC and Independent lawmakers continue to question the expenditure authority of Republican Gov. Ralph DLG Torres over federal funds that the CNMI government has been receiving, including the American Rescue Plan Act funds.

But according to Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig, there is no current law that allows the Legislature to control and monitor federal funds provided to the CNMI, “and right now, for ARPA, the expenditure authority is the governor.”

He noted that executive departments and offices, including autonomous agencies such as the Public School System, directly receive federal funds.

“Are [lawmakers] also going to appropriate the [over] $200 million that PSS received [from the federal government], and the tens of millions of dollars that other agencies have received? And [how] do you go about [appropriating the federal funds for] all the other federal programs that we have?” Atalig asked.

“I hope that they can think about and work on a nice piece of legislation that will not bog down the process of federal grants coming into the CNMI. That will be a disservice to the Commonwealth because people won’t be motivated to go out and get more grants, because then they would still need to get approval from the Legislature,” he added.

Last year, the U.S. Treasury announced additional Covid-19 relief assistance in the form of the ARPA Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, or CSLFRF.

As a result, the CNMI government received $481 million in Covid-19 economic relief assistance.

Torres, with the assistance of Secretary Atalig, created a CNMI spending plan and allocated funds into four sections: Section 602(A) to assist households, small businesses, nonprofits or aid to impacted industries, such as tourism, travel, and hospitality; Section 602(B) to provide premium pay to front liners in the CNMI government and priority healthcare in the private sector; Section 602(C) to reinstate furloughed employees, continue government services, and resume operations and activities of the judicial and legislative branches; and Section 602(D) to make investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure. 

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