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  • By Pacific Island Times News

New Covid relief proposal sets aside $20B for US territories

U.S. territories stand to receive more than $2 billion each under the new $3 trillion sweeping relief package that includes another round of direct payments to assist Americans who are struggling as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES Act, which the U.S. House Democrats unveiled Tuesday, sets aside $20 billion for Guam, CNMI, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and District of Columbia.

The 1,815-page proposal would add a fifth installment to a the previously released generous assistance from the federal government. The funding formula gives individual territories a relief package that is double or triple their local budget.

Guam stands to get $2.6 billion, which Delegate Michael San Nicolas said would be used to " respond to, mitigate and cover the costs, or replace foregone revenues" resulting from the Public Health Emergency."

The CNMI would receive over $2.9 billion to deal with the health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus in the relief act Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

CNMI Delegate Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan said much of what he asked for – direct aid to schools and the Commonwealth government, continued relief for individuals and households, and CIP funding – has been included in the bill.

“It is great to see $42 million in recovery rebates is finally being paid out in the Marianas,” Sablan said. “But almost two months after passage of our last big relief measure, the CARES Act, those unemployed in the Marianas still cannot apply for help, much less get the $940 weekly benefit that Congress provided. That is why I asked for more statutory deadlines that federal and local governments have to meet for distributing money from the HEROES Act.”

Sablan noted that $2.9 billion is triple the Marianas’ gross domestic product in the best year. “It is as much as the Commonwealth has received from the federal government since our beginning.

“This is a lot of money. But we face a very, very long road to recovery,” Sablan said."The Commonwealth will have to use this money in the wisest way possible; or we will not recover.”

He also cautioned that the Democratic proposal itself faces a long road to enactment. “Republicans in the House and the Senate have already said the HEROES Act is ‘dead on arrival.’ And the Trump administration has paused its talks with Congress on any further relief. The President is hoping we will all reopen our economies over the coming weeks and the coronavirus just disappears.”

A key goal for Sablan in this round of legislation was to replace lost revenue to the Commonwealth government as a result of the abrupt end of tourism in January as the coronavirus struck China, Korea, and other tourist markets. The drop in revenues forced cuts to retirees, teachers, and essential services.

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