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Temporary jobs extended in tsunami cleanup

By Fili Sagapolutele fili PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Feb. 1, 2010) - Close to 1,400 temporary disaster workers have been recruited under the National Emergency Grant (NEG) with last Friday as the deadline to submit application for these jobs and request worksites, while the American Samoa Government is still waiting official approval to extend the program for three more months.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono provided the latest update on the disaster recovery and relief efforts on his weekend radio program, saying that the government continues to work with its federal partners for the recovery phase.

The NEG, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides temporary jobs to assist with debris clean up, recovery, restoration and humanitarian efforts as a result of the September disasters.

Togiola explained that 1,399 temporary workers have been hired so far with 45 worksites already certified while 15 more are awaiting certification. He also pointed out that last Friday was the deadline to submit worksite requests and temporary employment applications.

He said the government has 31 worksites with 29 projects in worksites at villages, non-profit and non-governmental organizations.

All current worksites must be in compliance with the worksite agreements; all temporary workers must comply with the duties and responsibilities assigned to them, according to a press statement Saturday night from the governor’s office.

Togiola told radio listeners that the Governor’s Authorized Representative Evelyn Vaitautolu Langford is awaiting formal approval for the extension of the program from six months to nine months.

If approved, the program will continue but the temporary NEG hires can only work for the original six months or 1,040 hours they were hired for, according to the press statement.

Responding to a caller to his radio program, the governor said these temporary workers do not get paid holidays - but they must work 40 hours a week or they will not qualify. He said these individuals may have to work on Saturdays to make up the 40 hours especially if there was a holiday during the week.

Regarding a question about the difference in pay scale for these workers, Togiola said there is a pay difference due mainly to different job responsibilities. For example, general labor pay is different from those in specialized fields such as electrician and carpentry, whose pay scale is a little higher.

Togiola said only 243 applicants qualified for benefits under the US Department of Labor (USDOL) Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) which provides financial assistance to individuals whose employment or self-employment was lost or interrupted as a direct result of the disaster.

Estimated benefits of US$40,400 for approved applicants have begun to be dispersed, he said adding that the program only allows immigration status: CA - Permanent Residents, P7 Humanitarian, US Nationals and US Citizens.

The governor’s office says efforts are being made by the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to work with USDOL for a resolution with an additional interpretative decision on American Samoa immigration laws.

Both the DUA and NEG programs are administered by DHR.

Togiola also provided an update on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) housing project, saying that the plans for Direct Assistance, through the FEMA Permanent Housing Construction Program, are ongoing with so far 55 applicants who had total destruction of their home.

To date, 44 have received site inspections to determine site feasibility with 12 applicants who have approved land use permits, the governor said.

Each applicant is assigned a FEMA Case Worker to help them through the process as they work towards actual construction of the new home, according to a press statement from the governor’s office.

On his radio program, Togiola said some applicants who had major damage but not total loss to their home, have been recipients of the volunteer services of the Mennonite Disaster Service and the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief through partnership with FEMA and the American Samoa Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (ASVOAD).

He said these disaster relief groups are from all over the nation and volunteer their services to help families repair their damaged homes, free of charge.

He said the family purchases the materials but these groups provide the labor of love through their work and ministry. The governor pointed out that there are also NEG participants who are working as apprentices with these groups while learning a new trade and skills.

The governor also provided an update on the private financial donations received so far under the American Samoa Disaster Relief and Recovery Program, which now stands at US$488,270.

Langford told a Senate committee two weeks ago that the government has identified "utility relief (electricity)" as one area in which private donations could be used, adding that a lot of families were affected by the disaster and the closure of the Chicken of the Sea (COS) Samoa Packing.

Togiola said on his radio program that the government has provided to the Fono information about the private donations and their priority use, and the American Samoa Government is also taking into consideration recommendations from the Fono on other areas to spend this money.

The Senate had recommended, among other things, use of this money to assist affected families to send their relatives off-island for medial treatment.

Togiola said this fund is used solely to help families with assistance not covered by other federal or local assistance from FEMA or ASVOAD.

Final notification has been issued to owners of vehicles and vessels damaged by the tsunami which are on government land and the Right of Way. These hazards are causing a health and safety threat to the general public, said Togiola.

Saturday, Jan. 30 was the last day to remove these vehicles and vessels, and if not removed, the government will begin removal of these threats to the public; the governor said and pointed out that a notice was also in the newspaper.

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