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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Jan. 31, 2008) - The U.S. House has agreed to include territories, such American Samoa, in a bi-partisan economic stimulus package being put forward to bolster the U.S. economy, Congressman Faleomavaega Eni announced yesterday.

Faleomavaega has also announced that he has introduced legislation to halt automatic minimum wage hikes, or escalator clauses in the federal minimum wage law for American Samoa and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

The inclusion of territories in the economic stimulus package followed a request by Faleomavaega and Guam Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo last week to Congress leaders to include insular areas in the legislation.

The request also asked that language be included to ensure that the U.S. Treasury, rather than our local treasuries, would pay out the rebates which may be owed to our residents. A similar request was made to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Faleomavaega updated Gov. Togiola Tulafono about this in a letter on Jan. 29.

The letter revealed that Chairwoman Donna Christensen also made a request as did Puerto Rico for something similar.

"The language included by the House will cover all of us whether we have a mirror tax code, or are frozen, as is the case with American Samoa," Faleomavaega told the governor. "While this legislation must still must be agreed upon by the Senate and signed by the President, if it does move forward as proposed, it is my understanding that the agreement for individuals would include an income tax rebate and a child credit increase."

[PIR editor’s note: The Marianas Variety has reported that, according to Rep. Pete Tenorio, residents of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) as well as those of the other territories will be receiving tax rebates included in the economic stimulus package announced by President Bush and the U.S. House leadership last week. The story says:

…The legislation, finalized by the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee on Monday evening, includes sections that outline how the tax rebate payments will be made to territorial residents.

"We wanted to make sure that territorial residents not only benefited from the rebates, but that the CNMI and other territorial governments were not solely responsible for paying the rebates," Tenorio said.

Working with Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo from Guam, Congressman Eni Faleomavaega from American Samoa, and Congresswoman Donna Christensen from the Virgin Islands, Tenorio said he was able to ensure that the rebate payments would not cause irreparable harm to their respective treasuries.

"The bill requires that the rebates be paid this year, and the committee felt that the best way for this to happen in the territories was to make the U.S. Treasury responsible for fully reimbursing each territorial government," he said.

The legislation outlines that individual taxpayers would get up to $600 in rebates, working couples $1,200 and those with children an additional $300 per child.

The rebates would phase out gradually for single taxpayers whose adjusted gross incomes exceeds $75,000 and for couples with incomes over $150,000.

It is anticipated that taxpayers in the CNMI could collectively receive more than $15 million.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to approve the legislation on Tuesday, Jan. 29, and then the Senate has been requested to act on it in the near future. ]

For American Samoa, Faleomavaega said the U.S. Treasury would send a check of an estimated amount and ASG must have a plan approved promptly to disburse the money quickly. He said by enclosing a copy of the House language and bringing this to the governor's attention prior to this legislation being signed into law, "I am confident that your office and the Fono will be able to do what is necessary to make sure our people receive the rebates and credits they might be owed."

Faleomavaega said that given that many of our people live below the poverty level and our per capita incomes are well below the national average, making these tax rebates and child tax credits available for our residents without our local treasuries being responsible for the pay out is critical to protecting our fragile economies.

"While some have been critical that our people are receiving the same rebates as those living in the U.S. who pay federal income taxes, the fact is our men and women fight and die for our country, too. We are also confronted with the same, if not worse, economic challenges facing the U.S. economy including high prices for gas, food, and shelter," he said. "The economy is affecting all of us but, as a result of this economic stimulus package and the new direction our country is taking, we remain hopeful that we can turn this Nation around and make America great again.

In a separate letter, Faleomavaega informed Togiola that he has introduced legislation to halt escalator clauses in the federal minimum wage law for American Samoa and CNMI.

The bill, H.R. 5154, is based on a determination by the U.S. Department of Labor that while the first 50-cents wage hike was not harmful to economies of American Samoa and CNMI, the escalating increases could be harmful.

The first 50-cents increase was implemented in the territory on July 24, 2007. The federal minimum wage law mandated an automatic increase, or escalator clause, of 50-cents per hour every year thereafter until 2014 for American Samoa, and 2015 for CNMI.

Faleomavaega said that DOL report, which was sent to Congress last week, supports what he has been saying from the outset: that our economy cannot afford automatic increases in minimum wage.

The DOL report states that the closure of the two canneries would eliminate a total of 7,825 jobs from the American Samoa economy.

"Automatic increases could lead to the closing of both canneries. Given that our economy has not been diversified, we cannot afford for our canneries to pack up and leave," said Faleomavaega. "This is why we have worked together to provide our canneries with the local and federal incentives they need to stay in American Samoa."

He said by way of our mutual cooperation and based on the findings of the DOL study, he is confident that the Governor's Office, his office together with the Fono, can send a unified message to Congress requesting enactment of H.R. 5154 which will protect American Samoa's economy and, at the request of Governor Ben Fitial, will also include CNMI.

"While I appreciate your thoughts regarding minimum wage as expressed in your letter of December 27, 2007, it was necessary for the DOL to issue its report before a bill could be introduced as Congress would take no action without knowing the findings of the Bureau of Labor Statistics," the congressman told the governor. "As you know, my position has always been to introduce legislation as quickly as possible upon the release of the DOL report, and I am now enclosing H.R. 5154 for your information."

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