(Updated Dec. 5, 2019 11:06 a.m)
Washington, D.C. – Another $244 million is now available for recovery work in the Marianas, Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan announced today. The Department of Housing and Urban Development informed the Congressman of the new allocation of disaster relief funds by e-mail this morning. An official announcement will be published later in the Federal Register.
The allocation for the CNMI was part of the $2.3 billion fund to support the long-term disaster recovery process in hard-hit areas in 15 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
"This is welcoming news for our recovering islands, and we are very grateful to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and HUD Secretary Ben Carson for their support in our long-term disaster recovery process," CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres said.
"I also want to commend our hardworking staff at the Northern Marianas Housing Corporation and our departments and agencies for working collaboratively on our action plan, which will help fund work on our damaged homes on Saipan and Tinian, as well as infrastructure throughout our businesses, schools, and community areas around the Commonwealth," the governor added.
This was a year’s worth of work, Torres said, noting the many requirements and needs for the program to award funding for many projects compiled by NMHC and the governor's office with business and community input from many residents. "We thank our residents for their continued patience with our recovery process. The CDBG-DR program is one of the many reasons why we are developing our local capacity to meet the demands and requirements for managing our community recovery projects. This funding will help rebuild our Marianas stronger for the future" Torres said.
The $244 million in Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery, or CDBG-DR, is believed to be the single largest amount of federal funds ever for the Marianas, exceeding the 1985 “702” agreement of $228 million for capital improvement projects.
Congress appropriated the CDBG-DR funds – and made the Marianas eligible – in this year’s Public Law 116-20 and in last year’s Public Law 115-254. The money is for long-term, “unmet needs” not covered by recovery work by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration, or the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Getting federal recovery funding, above and beyond what the Marianas has gotten in the past, was our number one priority in the days after Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu,” Congressman Sablan said. “We worked very hard right through June, when Public Law 116-20 was finally signed into law, to make sure the Marianas got the help we need. Today’s announcement is very good news.”
In addition to eligibility for CDBG-DR, Sablan also ensured that Public Law 116-20 set aside $130 million for specific needs in the Marianas, including $2 million for financial control systems, $10.4 million for sewer and water infrastructure, and $56 million for solid waste facilities. He also successfully added $36 million for Marianas Medicaid and $25 million for food stamps in floor amendments, when the House passed the bill.
Sablan also made sure the Marianas was eligible for disaster recovery grants from the Economic Development Administration, the Agriculture Department’s Community Facilities Program, and for PSS, Head Start, and Micronesian Legal Services. Several Marianas entities have already applied for EDA funding, Sablan said, and he has been working closely with the regional office in Seattle to keep the grant applications moving forward.
CDBG-DR can be used to rebuild homes, businesses, and infrastructure. Economic revitalization, such as tourism marketing, is another acceptable use. HUD will require the Marianas “to develop thoughtful recovery plans informed by local residents,” the agency said in its e-mail to Sablan.
There are also strict requirements for financial controls and adherence to procurement rules approved by the federal government. Because of the very large amount of money going to the Marianas and a concern for local capacity to manage the funds, HUD sent a team to the islands this summer to brief Commonwealth officials on the rigorous standards they would have to meet.
At the time, HUD had set aside $205 million from Public Law 115-254 to be shared by the Marianas and American Samoa. But a final allocation was held off to allow for FEMA and other agencies to report on the amount of unmet needs in the two areas. The Marianas will receive $189 million of the money from P.L. 115-254 and another $55 million from Public Law 116-20, $244 million in total.
In a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson today, Sablan thanked the agency for the analytical work that went into today’s allocation of funds to meet unmet recovery needs in the Marianas. The Congressman asked the Secretary to continue the Department’s oversight and to provide technical assistance to make sure that CDBG-DR funds are spent “properly and promptly.”