Torres considering new division to manage federal funds

On Oct. 16, the Office of Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres announced the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the Northern Mariana Islands Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan which will bring in $244 million “to address unmet recovery needs” of the NMI following Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu. The NMI has six years to use the funding.

The plan calls for $110 million to be spent to repair damaged homes and build new residences and rental housing;  $97 million is to be used for ports, roads, utilities, and other infrastructure on Rota, Tinian, and Saipan; and $21 million will go to economic development activities, according to an Oct. 17 release The Marianas Visitors Authority is expected to participate with an intensive marketing campaign to revive tourism. Lastly, $4 million is set aside for planning activities for future housing, energy use and conservation, and utilities. The public had the opportunity for input on the plan before it was submitted and there will be further opportunity, as more detailed spending decisions are made.

At a press conference on Oct. 20, Torres told the Journal, “I am very confident we will spend that money. We’ve met with all the cabinet members, we’ve met with permitting agencies, we meet with the executive director for [the Northern Marianas Housing Corp.] which is Jesse Palacios. We are creating a new approach on this because we understand that current capacity will not be able to facilitate the $249 million just on the DR.”

Palacios said the housing corporation is establishing a list of interested contractors.

The NMI has additional Federal Emergency Management Agency post-typhoon funding of about $100 million, Torres said. “I am confident that we are going to spend that money, because we need to and that’s an opportunity for us to employ our community and increase opportunities for our people and reduce the unemployment rate …,” he told the Journal.

“We are looking at every approach – even as far as a new division – just to address the permitting agencies and permitting requirements that we need to move forward with these projects.”

In the next year, Torres said the administration is looking at extending the Kobler Homestead which he said will add 250 to 300 new homesteads. The NMI Homestead program allots public lands to people who do not have the means to acquire lots.   

Warren Villagomez, chairman of the NMI’s COVID-19 task force said the latest tally of positive numbers is 86, with six cases announced on Oct. 17.

An additional two cases were announced on Oct. 20.

The NMI tests arrivals as they arrive at the Saipan International Airport on United Airlines flights from Guam. “We’re doing everything right up at our border and we’re going to continue .. to be vigilant,” he said. COVID guidelines for celebrating Halloween would be issued, Villagomez said.


Breaking ranks – GVB wants a different approach to COVID testing

Gerald S.A. Perez, vice president of the Guam Visitors Bureau, laid out a case for a different approach to COVID testing in Guam against a dismal background of progress. “Mass testing and contact tracing on-island is “very challenged,” he said politely in the GVB board meeting on Oct. 22.

The COVID Alert app has seen just a 26% download, Perez said. “We have a recommendation that is a little bit different,” he said before advocating the implementation of what he called “direct and instant intervention.” A quick Antigen test, Perez said are not as accurate but practical for the broader community, and can provide infection results in 15 minutes.“It identifies infected people before the symptoms show,” he said. GVB’s Community Action Plan would source and make available cheap, quick and simple testing kits, introduce them and secure CARES funding for an initial 10,000 kits and follow-up 5,000 kits. “What we’re asking for is $1 million to take up the cause,” Perez said. Despite some initial discussion, Chairman Peter P. “Sonny” Ada called for a board vote and called on the board to support presentation of the plan to Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero. A motion to that effect passed unanimously.


PUA package stuck in DC, NMI working on securing more grants

Jason Osborne, liaison to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres of the Northern Mariana Islands in Washington, D.C., said a second stimulus package to extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is “at a standstill” as the Senate and House of Representatives have continuously disagreed on the scope of the package.

However, Osborne said the focus that him and the governor’s office are working on is the CW-1 CNMI Transitional Only Worker issue, as well as securing grant funding for the NMI via the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Patrick Guerrero, the governor’s representative on the COVID-19 task force, said the jurisdiction of the Kanoa Alternate Care Site will be handed over to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. on Oct. 28.

“We can comfortably accommodate 50 to 70 [people],” Guerrero told the Journal. “We’ve purchased 70 beds and other equipment.”

The Kanoa ACS is an additional quarantine facility to supplement the main site at Kanoa Resort, as well as the Mariana Resort & Spa.

Warren Villagomez, chairman of the COVID-19 task force, confirmed that All Souls’ Day celebrations this year, which involves mass at churches and cemetery visits, will commence. Villagomez said the Roman Catholic Diocese of Chalan Kanoa provided a plan to comply with the governor’s directives to ensure the safety of parishioners.


More grants from GEDA

In the Guam Economic Development Authority’s Oct. 22 board members meeting, GEDA’s board of directors discussed its financials.

As the third quarter for this calendar year came to a close, GEDA is $1.3 million above last quarter’s end, and has 6.53% more than its projected revenue for the year, according to Ernesto V. Espaldon, Jr., GEDA vice chairman.

He is also CEO of Quick Service Foods Inc. and Fun Foods International Inc., which do business as Wendy’s and Cold Stone Creamery Guam, respectively.

A new grant program – the Healthcare System Stabilization grant – is designed to help medical clinics with costs associated with COVID-19, such as less patients and more costly supplies. Applications will be released on Oct. 26 at 8 a.m. There will be $2 million in grants available for the program.

The previous small business grant program was also given an additional $1 million for businesses in need, with more than 20 applications still pending, awaiting review and pending dispersal.

GEDA also previewed its two-day virtual conference, “Taking a leap, launching a new business in 2021,” which will be at the end of November. Dates will be confirmed.


Grants in play:


For low income mortgage holders

The Guam Housing Corp. announced Oct. 8 the launch of Guam’s COVID-19 Mortgage Relief Program. GHC applied for and received $714,000 from the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority Community Development Block Grant-Coronavirus fund, to administer and implement the Mortgage Relief Program. The funds are authorized by the CARES Act to prevent, prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and are for low income residents who have lost their jobs or had a reduction in work hours due to COVID-19.

Patricia Kier, assistant to the president at GHURA, told the Journal, “GHC is hopeful that we will be able to assist an estimated 200 families through the Mortgage Relief Program. We will continue to accept applications until funding runs out.”


For UOG students

The U.S. Department of Education has given UOG $2 million to set up an advising center to assist students with academic advisement, financial solvency and career development for a five-year span.


Sales alerts

  • T Galleria by DFS has asked that readers take note that it will re-open from Oct. 26 to 31. The store is offering savings of 15% on beauty products, with discounts of 80% on some beauty products and complimentary gifts for shoppers. A range of fashion goods and watches will also be available.
  • JP Superstore is also holding the last weekend at the Tumon Store of its Mega Sale from noon to 7 p.m. with discounts of 15% storewide and discounts of 30% on some items.