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$16,150 to support ongoing survey

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Aug. 3, 2011 ) –The U.S. Department of the Interior approved a $16,150 technical assistance grant to the Saipan Chamber of Commerce to support its ongoing prevailing wage survey, even as the Fitial administration of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands awaits word on its $40,701.99 grant application with the U.S. Department of Labor, also for the same survey and related work.

Both the Chamber and the Fitial administration previously said they would go ahead with their surveys, with or without federal grants.

U.S. Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Tony M. Babauta sent Chamber executive director Richard Pierce a letter last week notifying the Chamber of the grant award.

[PIR Editor’s note: Prevailing wage is defined by the hourly wages, benefits and overtime paid to the majority of workers, laborers and mechanics in a specific area, according to Wikipedia. Prevailing wage values are useful in tracking and preventing overspending in the public sector and maintaining stable conditions for local construction industries.]

"This grant provides $16,150 to fund a 2011 survey of wages, salaries, and benefits as outlined in your proposal dated July 14, 2011," Babauta told Pierce in a letter.

Babauta signed the notification of grant award on July 25, a few days after the Chamber started distributing the wage, salaries and benefits survey forms.

The survey results can be used to establish prevailing wage rate determinations for CNMI employers applying for federal employment visas for existing and future foreign workers.

Babauta noted that the Chamber's request for the project was $19,500, which included $3,350 for indirect costs.

Babauta, who was on Saipan last month, said the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) does not fund indirect costs, hence the revised award amount of $16,150.

"We look forward to working with you and your staff to implement this grant," Babauta told Pierce.

Douglas Brennan, president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce (SCC), said yesterday that the Chamber "is appreciative of [Babauta's] generosity in granting us this award."

"With this Technical Assistance Program award to conduct the first prevailing wage survey in the CNMI, SCC can make good use of what OIA has outlined in the Guidance for the Design and Implementation of Technical Assistance Program Relating to Immigration in the CNMI," Brennan said.

This grant is a part of what was outlined in Babauta's May 2011 report where OIA is to help with the implementation of U.S. Public Law 110-229 or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, which placed CNMI immigration under federal control.

Babauta's May 2011 report was on OIA's Forum on Economic and Labor Development held last year on Saipan.

The Interior's grant award will also be discussed in today's Chamber general membership meeting at the Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan.

The Chamber, established in 1959 and incorporated in 1976, is the largest business group in the CNMI with nearly 150 members.

It has engaged the services of The Guam Employers Council to manage the wage survey project.

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