Saipan-- The U.S. Treasury has allocated $481.8 million of Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and opened the application portal.
Treasury also issued expanded guidance on how the money can be used by the Commonwealth and by states and territories nationwide. Congress appropriated the money in the American Rescue Plan Act, Public Law 117-2, enacted on March 11.
“This is very good news for the Commonwealth,” Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan said. “Government revenues are way down because of the pandemic, but the need for government services continues."
Sablan said the new Covid-relief aid will fill the gap and give the CNMI what it needs to pay government employees, help individual families and businesses, meet the increased costs of providing health services, and even invest in new infrastructure.
Congress provided $4.5 billion for the U.S. insular areas in the American Rescue Plan. Half the money was divided evenly among the five areas, the other half was divided by population. Sablan said the allocation system Congress established helped areas with smaller populations, like the CNMI.
The CNMI will receive the fiscal recovery funds as a single payment, Treasury said.
The department also released details today on how the funds can be used. State and territorial governments may use the money to replace revenue lost because of the pandemic. Treasury has set up a methodology to compare actual revenue with what could have been expected without the pandemic based on the three prior years’ revenue growth or 4.1 percent, the national average.
The money may also be used to help those in the greatest economic hardship, Treasury said. The Commonwealth will be able to provide job training and other assistance to unemployed workers, and direct aid to families facing food, housing, and other financial insecurity. Small businesses, particularly those in travel and tourism, may be given loans, grants, and counseling to help their recovery.
Investment in infrastructure is also permitted. Water and sewer projects that align with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which the CNMI receives, are allowed. Broadband infrastructure can be built out to meet the standard of 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload speeds. And direct aid to households to support internet access at these speeds is an eligible use of the American Rescue Plan grant to the Commonwealth.
Municipalities in the Marianas are also qualified to receive Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. Treasury said it expects to provide further guidance on distributions to municipalities in the coming days.