Unfinished ARRA Projects Raise Concerns In CNMI

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Inos: CNMI cannot afford to waste remaining $15 million

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 15, 2013) – Governor Eloy S. Inos and Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) separately expressed disappointment yesterday that Northern Marianas agencies have taken longer than expected to spend $15 million of the over $119 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money given to the CNMI, four years after the awards started in February 2009.

Moreover, 40 percent or 23 of 57 ARRA projects in the CNMI have yet to be completed as of March 30, 2013, latest data from recovery.gov shows.

The federal tracking agency updated the CNMI data on April 30, covering the latest quarter of January to March 2013.

Sablan clarified that the $15 million listed on recovery.gov for the CNMI "has been obligated or that there is a waiver from the Dodd-Frank Act, even if the project has not started."

He said the Dodd-Frank Act did say that ARRA funds "not obligated by the end of 2012 would go back to the U.S. Treasury."

"Our money should be safe. Still, I am disappointed that Recovery Act funds were not spent more quickly in the Commonwealth. That was one of the first bills I voted for in Congress, over four years ago," Sablan told Saipan Tribune.

ARRA money paid for hundreds of jobs in the CNMI, many of them at the Public School System.

"It pumped life into our economy, as we know from the jump in GDP [gross domestic product] in 2010. So I certainly hope those 23 unfinished projects get going," Sablan said.

ARRA has so fair paid out $790.3 billion to U.S. states and territories, including the CNMI, since its enactment in February 2009.

The governor, in a separate interview, said the CNMI cannot afford to waste the $15 million remaining funds. He said a chunk of that is for road and energy-related projects.

The governor said he would like agencies involved to speed up the use and implementation of the remaining ARRA funds.

"We can't afford to return any of these monies, especially with the sequestration, if future funding is not shared. We will do everything within our means to make sure we spend that money," he said.

The CNMI will not only lose millions in federal funds because of "sequestration" but is also seeing the end of the ARRA program.

Sequestration is a series of automatic, across-the-board funding cuts to U.S. government agencies totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

Of the over $119 million in ARRA funds awarded to the CNMI, 40 percent or over $48 million went to education, mainly PSS. Energy and environment projects got the second biggest chunk at almost $39 million, followed by transportation-related projects at over $15 million.

The rest went to infrastructure, family, public safety, research and development/science, housing, health, and job training.

Of the 57 ARRA projects listed on recovery.gov, the CNMI has so far completed only 34-about 60 percent.

Some 13 other projects-23 percent-are more than 50 percent complete, while seven or 12 percent are less than 50 percent complete.

Three projects (5 percent) have not even been started. These projects involve $4.5 million in awarded ARRA money.

The Obama administration’s ARRA program was meant to jumpstart the economy, and create and save jobs.

With ARRA funds drying up, the Inos administration hopes that the negative impact of the end of the ARRA program and sequestration will be cushioned by an improved tourism industry.

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