Biden grants CNMI’s FEMA waiver request

Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (file photo)

Last month, FEMA rejected Governor Ralph Torres’ request for a waiver of the local match required for its COVID-related grants, but this week, the new administration has reversed the decision.

President Biden has announced the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost, according to the Office of CNMI Delegate Gregorio ‘Kilili’ Sablan.

“Our new President understands the Commonwealth and state governments throughout our nation, are cash-strapped because of the pandemic. We cannot afford a local-share of FEMA assistance. At the same time, we cannot let that cash shortage slow down our response to COVID or prevent people in need from getting help,” Sablan said.

Sablan said the directive means all work eligible under FEMA’s existing COVID-19 policies, — including increasing medical capacity, non-congregate sheltering, and emergency feeding distribution, going back to January 2020 — will be reimbursed 100 percent by the federal government.

Sablan said the directive also expanded activities eligible for 100 percent reimbursement.

Activities covered include procuring personal protective equipment and disinfecting services and supplies. It also includes safely opening and operating eligible schools, child-care facilities, healthcare facilities, domestic violence shelters, transit systems, and other costs incurred after Biden became President.

Additional burden

Torres made his waiver request to FEMA in March of last year. After the initial request was rejected, he submitted an appeal to FEMA.

“Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the increased level of funding you have requested is not warranted. Therefore, I must inform you that your request for a cost share adjustment for this major disaster declaration is denied,” wrote Robert Fenton, acting FEMA. Administrator.

Previously, Fenton was the Administrator for FEMA’s Region IX and has been directly involved with the Commonwealth’s recovery from the 2018 typhoons, as well as the coronavirus.

In his March 2020 letter asking for local cost share waiver, Governor Torres said, “the additional burden of paying the non-federal shared cost when current locally-expended resources in response to COVID-19 have already exceeded the CNMI’s available operating capital will result in curtailment of critical public services.”

The Governor specifically mentioned the possibility of defunding the police, and cutting funding for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the hospital, the Judiciary and Legislature, and curtailing payment to for utility services to government facilities without help from the Trump administration.