BY GIFF JOHNSON
Marshall Islands Correspondent
MAJURO, Marshall Islands — Four local businesses have received Covid-19 relief funds from the Marshall Islands government as of late July. Marshall Islands President David Kabua and some of his cabinet ministers joined in ceremonies to deliver the relief checks.
Nearly $120,000 has been paid out through the end of July to the four businesses.
Robert Reimers Enterprises, which operates one of the two major hotels in Majuro along with a popular restaurant and various other business activities, received the largest relief check at $85,000 for the quarter ending June 30.
The Amata Kabua International Airport Restaurant and Bar received $28,000 in relief assistance for the same period. Both businesses have been hard hit by the inbound travel ban maintained by the government since March 8.
One local restaurant — the DAR Coffee Corner — and the Happy Hands handicraft store received $3,298 and $900, respectively, in relief funds.
Reginald White, chairman of the National Disaster Committee’s Economic Impact Assessment Ad Hoc Committee, said the government has earmarked $6 million provided by the Asian Development Bank for business relief aid.
“Over 50 businesses have applied for relief assistance,” he said. White said the government hoped to get relief assistance issued to other companies. But, he said, “Many have not come back with the additional information that the committee needs to verify and confirm their losses and finalize their awards.”
White said these are the initial awards and these four businesses can apply for a second round after the current quarter ends Sept. 30.
“Each business was not in the red, but had some impacts nonetheless,” he said.
The Chief Secretary’s office, which is overseeing the disaster management program, said on July 29 that submitted applications “are currently under review and the Economic Impact Assessment Committee expects to award more (shortly).”
Unemployment benefits funded by the U.S. CARES Act, however, have yet to be rolled out in the Marshall Islands.
The Marshall Islands government in mid-July announced eligibility requirements for the program that provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits for those who lost their jobs or saw their hours reduced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But at the end of July, the government was still not ready to begin accepting claims for unemployment benefits from local workers.
The Marshall Islands Labor Division does not have a date for when it will start rolling out the US-funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (or PUA) program. But an official indicated “it will be very soon.”
The U.S. Congress and President Donald Trump in March approved the CARES Act, which includes a program providing unemployment benefits to people in the United States and US-affiliated islands who have lost jobs or hours due to Covid-19. Before it can get rolling in Marshall Islands, multiple government agencies need to complete various requirements.
Meanwhile, the Federated States of Micronesia issued its first 65 PUA checks to Micronesian citizens on July 13 with hundreds more expected to follow. The average unemployment benefit payment for the first 65 people was $4,615, according to the FSM President’s Office. mbj