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Funds for recovery in wake of devastating tsunami

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Oct. 21, 2009) - The U.S. Department of Labor yesterday awarded US$24.8 million to American Samoa to assist clean-up and recovery efforts in the wake of the tsunami that struck the territory on Sept. 29.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono made the official announcement yesterday morning in a press conference saying the grant comes from the DOL’s National Emergency Grants program for temporary employment and about US$8 million will be released first.

This grant will help the American Samoa government "in hiring temporary laborers [workers] to assist us with our disaster relief in employment...that provides food, clothing, shelter and other humanitarian assistance for disaster victims," he explained.

Temporary employment covers the areas of cleaning, repair, demolition, renovation and reconstruction of damaged and destroyed structures and facilities located within the disaster area, the governor explained.

"The good thing about this grant is that it can be expanded to public or private agencies and organizations, that could set up to provide those kinds of employment," the Governor said, adding the Department of Human Resources (DHR) will oversee this grant and local companies can apply to DHR if that firm has employees who can be deployed for these functions.

"So it’s not necessarily [only] government that will benefit, as some of our small companies may be able to help with the recovery," he said.

Togiola said a lot of local residents are unemployed at this time, due to the impact the disaster has had on both the government and private sector.

He said those seeking applications for these temporary jobs can apply with DHR and maybe by next week these job opportunities will start becoming available.

In Washington D.C. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis announced the grant saying the "grant will support ongoing recovery efforts and help American Samoans put their lives back together."

"Our hearts go out to the victims and survivors of the recent tsunami in American Samoa," she said in a news release. DOL says these funds will be used to create more temporary jobs to assist in the recovery efforts as a result of the devastation caused by the tsunami.

Of the US$24.8 million (US$24,857,608) announced, US$8.2 million (US$8,285,870) will be released initially. Additional funding up to the amount approved will be made available as the territory demonstrates a continued need for assistance, said USDOL in a press release.

USDOL also sent a notification to Congressman Faleomavaega Eni; U.S. Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel Akaka and members of the Congressional Asia Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) about the grant award.

Faleomavaega, who is vice chair of CAPAC, thanked Solis— a "good friend and former colleague" for releasing this grant fund to "help American Samoa rebuild".

"The people of American Samoa are deeply appreciative of the support we are receiving from the federal government in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck our islands on September 29, and I thank the Obama Administration, the U.S. Congress, FEMA, Secretary Solis, and all others for standing with us as we begin the long and difficult process of rebuilding our homes and lives," he said in a news release.

"I also want to thank Senator Inouye and Senator Akaka for their unwavering support," Faleomavaega said, adding the trio released a joint statement applauding Secretary Solis’ decision to release the grant funds.

During yesterday’s press conference, Togiola also said that ASG is awaiting approval of a second application for a "disaster related unemployment" grant. He said this grant would deal with people who have been temporarily laid off, or temporally prevented from going to their jobs because of the disaster.

He said this category also includes businesses such as people who are self employed.

According to the Governor, the disaster has caused some businesses to not operate, resulting in workers not earning an income at this point and this grant request can address this issue.

Togiola said both grant applications to USDOL were put together by DHR director Evelyn Langford, her staff and other individuals with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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