NMI moving steadily ahead with vaccination; prepping for stimulus checks

“We will be starting to vaccinate the 60-plus and the 1B group,” said Esther Muna, CEO of the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Health Center, during a Jan. 15 media briefing.

NMI manamko or senior citizens can book for vaccinations. “Online registration is preferred, but you can call the call center,” Muna said. The 1B group includes government workers and teachers.

Muna said while there is no data yet, the 60-plus group is expected to be large.

The NMI received 12,400 doses to vaccinate 6,200 people and continues to place a monthly order. Muna said she does not expect any change due to the change of the U.S. administration.

Saipan will receive the Pfizer vaccination and Rota and Tinian the Moderna doses, she said.

Star Marianas – which flies within the NMI islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota – added additional flights between Saipan and Rota at the end of December.

Off-island and Guam residents who do business in Rota and Tinian have told the Journal they would appreciate flying direct to those islands, rather than having to quarantine in Saipan.

“I have no say in that,” Muna told the Journal. However, she said the CHCC can help in timing of testing after the initial five days of quarantine. “We accommodate as much as we can. If there’s a need for them to leave quickly, we can definitely do that. Travelers should contact CHCC through chcc.gov.mp regarding flight timing and departure within the NMI, she said.

The NMI is aiming to dispense stimulus checks by Feb. 1, according to Tracy B. Norita, director of the division of Revenue and Taxation.  “We just received the IRS plan; our team is currently reviewing that,” she said. Norita said the NMI expects about 90% of its stimulus money at the beginning from the U.S. Treasury. “They will be transferring about $42 million,” she said. The NMI expects to issue about 30,000 payments, she said.

The ability to file and pay quarterly Business Gross Revenue Tax online has been helpful Norita said, with about 600 to 700 businesses registered. That has also reduced lines, she said.

Stimulus checks will be based on 2019 returns. The portal where residents can register for direct deposit will be read soon. “We hope to test and have it up and running by the end of next week,” she said on Jan. 15.

As to potentially lower income tax revenues in fiscal 2020, David Dlg. Atalig, director of finance told the Journal, “We see a drop in a lot of cases.” Some residents have received more in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance than in previous wages, he said. “Our team is going to be prepared for that.”


Palau visitor numbers dropped 80.5% in 2020

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions of inbound flights since March 2020, arrivals for the year 2020 represented an 80.5% decrease compared to 2019. Visitors for the year totaled 18,360.

Visitors from April to December 2020, excluding residents, students, employment, flight crews and transits, were specialists – mainly from Taiwan, Japan, and North America, according to a Jan. 15 release from the Palau Visitors Authority. 

All scheduled and charter flights ceased operations to Palau in April 2020.

Asia Pacific Airlines maintains weekly cargo and mail flights.

In the past 10 years visitor arrivals to Palau were highest in 2015, with a total of 163,909.

Palau’s largest markets were China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea, in that order.

Of its 79,667 visitors in 2019, the largest group from North America is largest group came from the United States, with 7,817 visitors.

That year, Palau saw 116 visitors from Brazil, it’s largest South American market.

From Europe the largest group came from Sweden, which sent 523 visitors and the United Kingdom, with 520.  From Oceania, the largest group came from Australia, which sent 726 visitors.


Guam unemployed to get more payments within days

Pandemic displaced workers can expect $20.9 million in unemployment benefits to begin hitting accounts by the end of the week or early next, according to a Jan. 19 release from the Guam Department of Labor. “Of that amount, $20.8 million comes from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, and $142,000 comes from the Lost Wages Assistance program. This batch also includes new applications from the extended COVID relief package. Late last week the PUA application reopened on hireguam.com for qualified claimants to file a new application or continue an existing claim,” the release said.


Biden-Harris release first economic plans

The “American Rescue Plan,” is the $1.9 trillion package to boost the economy and hasten vaccine production and distribution that the Biden-Harris administration will see to have Congress approve. It also contains unemployment benefits, money for states, cities and territories, a $15 an hour federal wage and childcare subsidies.

The plan was released to U.S. mainland media on Jan. 15.


Rev&Tax readies for tax season

The Guam Department of Revenue and Taxation announced Jan. 18 it will receive 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12, with the option to file 1040s online. The end of the tax season will be April 15.

For the first time, Guam taxpayers will have the option to receive refunds by direct deposit.

Direct deposits will not be available for the next round of upcoming stimulus payments, but Rev&Tax is discussing the possibility, according to the Office of the Governor.


NMI gets funding for schools

Northern Mariana Islands schools will receive additional funds for post-Super Typhoon Yutu repair after the typhoon damaged multiple facilities in 2018, according to a Jan. 16 release from the office of the NMI delegate to Congress.

  • The CNMI Public School System will receive $3.41 million to rebuild Koblerville Elementary School.
  • Mount Carmel School will receive $1.36 million to restore its gym complex
  • Northern Marianas College will receive $2.22 million to resupply equipment and supplies in 17 buildings.

These funds are in addition to those in the second round of COVID-19 relief funding.


EPA island wide cleanup money coming

Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero signed a Memorandum of Agreement Jan. 11 between the Guam Environmental Protection Agency and the Mayors’ Council of Guam, initiating the MCOG’s fiscal 2021 Island-wide Environmental Cleanup Program. 

The Mayors Council was authorized a legislative allocation of up to $1.3 million from Guam EPA’s Recycling Revolving Fund for removing and disposing of junk vehicles, tires, batteries, used oil, white goods, and other recyclables. Guam P.L. 35-99 further mandated the MCOG to submit an expenditure plan to the Guam EPA Board of Directors for review and approval, prior to any expenditure from the allocation.

The initial allocation will be $500,000 according to a Jan. 15 release from Guam EPA.


GPA gets the goods from the Navy

The Guam Power Authority received ownership of the U.S. Navy’s Apra Substation Jan. 14. substation is operated by the Guam Power Authority and houses approximately $2 million of electric power utility equipment assets, according to a Jan. 14 release.

 In 1987, US Public Law 100-202 authorized the Secretary of the Navy to transfer ownership of certain U.S. Navy-owned assets to GPA. In 1996, GPA began operating the U.S. Navy assets under a 50-year GPA-Navy Lease Agreement pending remediation of the properties in accordance with federal and local laws.

GPA expects more U.S. Navy property and assets to be transferred to GPA, including approximately 80 miles of transmission lines, 17 miles of distribution lines, 16.5 miles of fuel lines, and five sites totaling 37 acres. GPA has been maintaining and operating these assets for more than 20 years under the GPA-U.S. Navy Lease Agreement, it said in the release.


AG’s office catching up on island crime

On Jan. 15, the Office of the Attorney General released grand jury indictments of Jan. 13 and 14. Of the 15 indictments, 15 of the 16 were for alleged possession of a Schedule II controlled substance as a felony.

Of the 32 grand jury indictments issued on Jan. 11 and 12, 26 of those also related to alleged drug possession.

Carlina Charfauros, public information officer for the AG’s office, told the Journal, “There has been an uptick in grand jury proceedings because we are addressing the backlog of cases due to the pandemic.” She said cases were prioritized and violent crimes, sexual assault and family violence case went before grand juries first.

Since the AG’s office is now able to e-file with the court, documents are also released more quickly to media, Charfauros said. 

“I would say that with the court’s help, we have been able to address most of the backlogged cases and have brought the grand jury case log up to speed. It is a display of our commitment to seek justice, and an example of how prosecution has worked through the pandemic,” she said. mbj