Colonia, Yap -- The Federated States of Micronesia has paid out more than $18.5 million for Covid-19 economic recovery and relief assistance for students and citizens stranded off-island, unemployed workers and tourism-based businesses, according to the FSM Department of Finance & Administration.
The Covid-19 relief programs were funded by the Asian Development Bank’s Covid-19 Pandemic Response Option grants to the FSM totaling $20 million, combined with the FSM government’s $15 million economic stimulus package
from the CARES Act.
Sen. Isaac V. Figir of Yap, chair of the FSM Congressional Standing Committee on Ways and Means, hosted a public hearing in Yap to provide general oversight discussions with relevant agencies regarding the recovery and assistance programs being administered through the FSM national government.
The meeting focused on programs related to stranded students and stranded citizens, pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) and federal pandemic unemployment compensation (FPUC), the Tourism Sector Mitigation Relief fund and touched on planned low-income housing assistance.
A total of 250 FSM students who were studying overseas and were stranded abroad have received one-time payments of $500 totaling $125,000. Pohnpei has the highest number of students benefiting from this program at 154, Yap with 42, Chuuk 36, and Kosrae 18.
The stranded citizens program has received 748 applications of which 535 have been approved so far to receive two payments of $1,000 per person or $1,500 per family for a total of $1,174,000. Twenty-nine applicants were determined to not be eligible.
Payments from PUA and FPUC programs totaling $11.5 million for individuals and families have been approved for 1,242 eligible applicants out of a total of 2,652 applications.
Overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor and managed by the FSM DoFA, the PUA fund provides $166 per week from Feb. 2, 2020 to Sept. 4, 2021.
Phase 1 of the FPUC program provided $600 per week from April 4 to July 25, 2020 and, during Phase 2, $300 per week when it was extended from Jan. 2 to Sept. 6, 2021.
Individuals whose employment or self-employment was lost or interrupted as a direct result of Covid-19 are eligible for these benefits.
The Tourism Sector Mitigation Fund has benefited 179 businesses so far with a total of $5,513,957 calculated by adding an amount equal to the business’s monthly salaries and wages plus the cost of electricity and water that has been paid by the company.
Interest payments on business loans are also paid to banks through this fund on behalf of the affected businesses. Of the total expenditure to date, $377,644 has been remitted to the banks.
In addition to hotel operators, car rentals, tour operators, resorts and any other “tourist-specific businesses,” eligibility was recently expanded to include exporters, apartments/rentals, taxi companies, LP gas distribution, cinemas, bars, beauty salons, water bottling, and “others to be determined.”
In addition to these programs, a cash transfer grant program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor totaling $6 million provides one-time assistance of $1,000 per household to approximately 4,500 low-income families.
The goal is to give temporary relief for those families that are “outside of the formal labor sector, such as subsistence farmers and fishermen.” They are encouraged to use the money to “enhance Covid-19 readiness by buying face masks, sanitary needs, and other Covid-19 preventive items.”
It was reported during the hearing that a survey is being conducted in each state to determine who is eligible for this low-income program. Out of a total of 17,714 low-income households, 14,573 have been surveyed for a completion rate of 84.9 percent.
According to the World Bank’s 2017 technical report, Poverty Profile of the Federated States of Micronesia, more than 40 people out of 100 live below the total poverty line in the nation.
Another $2 million grant was allocated to the Department of Health & Social Affairs to strengthen awareness of Covid-19, “inclusive of education on handwashing and social distancing, distribution of soaps, masks and informational materials, and piloting a gender-based hotline in Pohnpei State.”
DHS has also been charged with administering a financial assistance program to vulnerable groups “such as the elderly, persons with disabilities, and survivors of gender-based violence.”
The intention is to “provide temporary waivers of medical expenses not included under funding from the Compact of Free Association, electricity subsides to an estimated 2,000 low-income households with dependents who have disabilities, distribution of solar lamps to an estimated 5,000 households on remote outer islands, and clinical management of rape and intimate partner violence kits and consultation options for survivors of gender-based violence.”
A $2 million food security grant is the responsibility of the Department of Resource & Development for delivery to community groups and low-income households. The funding provides “subsistence livelihood training, and an equitable distribution of seeds, planting and fishing materials to vulnerable citizens at no cost.