CNMI PSS funding increased to $23.2M as USDOE issues calculation error
The CNMI's Public School System will receive an additional $810,978, Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, the CNMI's delegate to the U.S. Congress reported today.
The U.S. Department of Education informed the congressman the department made a “calculation error” this week when dividing $27,940,945 in CARES Act Education Stabilization Funds between PSS and CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres.
After recalculation, funding for public schools increased from $22.4 million to $23.2 million. Funds provided to the governor for Emergency Education Relief were cut from $5.6 million to $4.8 million. “This is good news for teachers, staff, and students at PSS,” Sablan said.
In the CARES Act Congress set aside up to $154 million for schools in the Marianas, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – the so-called “outlying areas.” But the Department of Education has been slow to distribute the money. States began receiving their Education Stabilization Fund grants two weeks ago.
“The Trump administration, also, decided to give the Governor some of the money that Congress intended to go to our schools,” Sablan said. “That means PSS is still short $2.6 million of the amount the Commonwealth budgeted for this year and the Governor agreed in signing the FY20 Appropriations Act.”
The FY20 Appropriation law mandated $37.7 million for PSS, but the Commonwealth has only paid out $11.9 million, leaving an unpaid balance of $25.8 million. As a result, teachers and staff have had their pay cut and been furloughed.
“As I wrote yesterday to Governor Torres, he should turn over all the money – now, $4.8 million – he was given and make PSS whole. Teachers and staff need to be paid,” Sablan said.
“And we have to help Marianas schools deliver online education and other services to our students during the coronavirus crisis.” Sablan previously asked the Governor to use some of the $36 million the Commonwealth government received in direct aid from the CARES Act to help pay for online learning.
Sablan is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education with responsibility for education issues nationwide
In a phone call today Sablan thanked Frank Brogan, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education at the Department of Education, for taking a second look at the original distribution of the CARES Act money between the Public School System and the Governor and for the resulting increase to PSS.
“With teachers’ pay cut and furloughed during the pandemic, the Public School System needs every penny it can get,” Sablan told Brogan.
The congressman also asked Brogan to expedite the paperwork necessary to get the CARES Act money to PSS, now that amounts have been allocated and announced.
Sablan informed congressional leadership, before he left Washington this week, that further federal funding for education needs to be a priority in CARES II, the next legislative response to the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus, currently being negotiated.
“If the governor hands over his money to PSS, that will take care of this fiscal year,” Sablan said. “But Commonwealth revenues are not likely to recover before the next school year begins. More federal relief will be needed, so teachers and staff get paid and students can continue learning.
For the general relief assistance, CNMI Finance Secretary David DLG. Atalig announced on Wednesday that the stimulus check web portal is now open to receive banking information for direct deposit of the economic impact payments, better known as the stimulus checks.
All eligible CNMI residents, including SSA/RRB/VA/SSI beneficiaries and taxpayers with no filing requirement, who have filed either a 2018 or 2019 tax return with the CNMI Division of Revenue and Taxation can now apply online for direct deposit at https://finance.gov.mp/stimulus/.
Upon entering the web portal, residents will need the following items:
• A copy of your 2019 Tax return (if filed)
• A copy of your 2018 Tax return
• Your banking information
“We want to get these checks out to our people as soon as possible, and the fastest way to do that is to apply for direct deposit. Our residents are advised to provide information from their 2018 or 2019 tax return forms, as well as their bank routing number and account number. Finance has ensured that the portal is secure and information will be protected,” Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said.
“We encourage taxpayers to apply online for direct deposit, because we want to give everyone their checks in the fastest way. We want to promote social distancing, so that people do not need to go to the post office or to the bank. The Department of Finance assures the CNMI that all information through the web portal will be secured and confidential. Let’s work together to get everyone the assistance they deserve,” Atalig said.
Residents who do not opt for direct deposit will have their stimulus checks mailed to the address indicated on their return or their last known address.
To assist taxpayers in social distancing efforts, the Division of Revenue & Taxation is providing a tax return drop-box at the entrance of the office for easy and fast submission of tax forms.
DRT will process returns as quickly as possible to ensure all eligible taxpayers receive their EIP in a timely manner. Taxpayers are encouraged to visit the Department of Finance website at www.dof.gov.mp/forms to access digital versions of the required tax forms.