‘STIMULUS’ GRANTS ON WAY TO A SAMOA

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‘STIMULUS’ GRANTS ON WAY TO A SAMOA Visiting congressman reassures government

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, August 7, 2009) - U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, says American Samoa is expected to receive more federal money under federal legislation dealing with overhauling the nation’s health care system — an issue hotly debated across the country.

Rahall led the Congressional committee’s delegation, which spent 24-hours in the territory before departing Wednesday afternoon enroute to U.S. jurisdictions in the northern Pacific.

Asked about congressional help to assist American Samoa during these economic difficult times, Rahall said during a press briefing at the Tafuna airport that with the assistance of the territorial government and Congressman Faleomavaega, "we are well on the road to addressing" some pressing issues dealing with the local economy.

He pointed to stimulus money, which Rahall says Faleomavaega has been so instrumental "in bringing ... into the islands for infrastructure improvement" as one way in which congressional help is assisting American Samoa.

According to the ASG stimulus website, American Samoa is so far estimated to receive more than $135 million, and this does not include other competitive grants. More than $30 million has been released, according to ASG.

(As previously mentioned, stimulus money is also subject to the "high risk" status stipulations as in the normal federal grants recieved by ASG.)

"We have pending in the wings a health care overhaul, which will mean so much more [money] for American Samoa, especially in regard to Medicaid," said Rahall.

During his address Wednesday morning before a joint session of the Fono, Rahall also noted the overhaul of health care in the nation will benefit American Samoa, saying if successful, it will provide more federal funds for American Samoa under the Medicaid program.

He also said Faleomavaega has helped secure "additional funds to cushion the blow of your local government resources, while we work in Congress to address the systematic problem of your overall economy."

At the airport briefing, Rahall again touched on the issue of the minimum wage, which he says "is affecting and is going to affect even more, perhaps, the workers in the tuna cannery industry — and that is being addressed" through a study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Due to time constraints at the airport press briefing, Rahall wasn’t able to provide additional details regarding American Samoa and additional funding under health care reform.

There are at least two federal bills pending in the U.S. House dealing with Medicaid for the territories, including a bill called "Territorial Health Parity Act of 2009" which would amend the Social Security Act to eliminate the federal funding caps now in place and strike the statutorily set Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP) of 50% that currently applies to the territories.

A national heath care reform bill is being debated by Congress at this time, but specifics on how American Samoa will benefit are not immediately clear.

Among the members of the CODEL who traveled here was Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands Congressman Gregorio "Kalili" Sablan, who was asked by Samoa News for his reaction to the federal court decision in CNMI on Timothy P. Villagomez, the former lieutenant governor for CNMI. Villagomez was sentenced Wednesday in Saipan to seven years in prison.

Sablan said the federal court has made its decision. "My heart goes out to Tim and his family. I do know him and his family very well," said Sablan before boarding the military plane. "It’s a court process so I would leave it up to that. The court has made a decision and I won’t judge them. The judgment has been made by a jury of his peers."

Asked if there is a widespread problem of corruption in CNMI, Sablan said "I don’t think the problem is widespread. I know there were some problems in the past but they have been addressed." He didn’t elaborate further because the delegation was already boarding the flight.

In April this year, Villagomez resigned as lieutenant governor after he was found guilty of defrauding the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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