Businesses in the CNMI would have new access to two grant programs and microloans from the Small Business Administration as the result of statutory changes incorporated into the National Defense Authorization this week.
Rep. Gregorio Sablan , the CNMI's delegate to the U.S. Congress, amended the annual defense bill with his own Northern Mariana Islands Small Business Act, H.R. 2603, during floor debate on Monday and the House passed the Defense Act the following day.
The Northern Mariana Islands Small Business Act will allow the Marianas to establish a Lead Small Business Development Center, which would make available around $600,000 in renewable funding to expand the reach and capacity of the existing SBDC service center on Saipan.
With this additional funding, small businesses on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota could have access to free or low-cost services such as incubator workspaces for entrepreneurs, assistance with loan applications, business planning, operations, personnel administration, marketing, export assistance, sales, and other requirements for growth and success.
Sablan’s bill, also, includes the Marianas in the SBA’s Federal and State Technology (FAST) partnership program. FAST grants fund outreach and technical assistance to small businesses interested in competing for the federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.
And aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses owners would gain access to the SBA’s Microloan program, as a result of Sablan’s Small Business Act.
The program provides loans up to $50,000, typically not offered by banks, for working capital or the acquisition of materials, supplies, or equipment. In addition, the microloan program, which is targeted to help women, low-income, veteran, and minority entrepreneurs, provides marketing, management, and technical assistance to borrowers
Sablan introduced his legislation in May 2019 and has been working ever since to package it into a larger, must-pass bill. For over half a century, Congress has never failed to pass the annual defense measure.
“With the Marianas economy struggling during the pandemic the 1,700 small businesses in our islands need all the help we can give them to survive and get back on their feet,” Sablan said.
Meanwhile, the CNMI Department of Labor announced on Thursday that $3.5 million in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) have been disbursed to eligible and approved claimants, as of Wednesday.
All PUA/FPUC claims are processed in the order they were received. If all eligibility requirements are met and no disqualification is in effect, claims are batched for processing. CNMI DOL and the CNMI Department of Finance are working in tandem to ensure benefits payments are disbursed on a daily basis.
Depending on the nature of how claimants would like to receive their payments, disbursements can be made out within one to two business days (via direct deposit) or 7-10 calendar days (via mailed check).