Finance chief: CNMI has $4.9M in relief funds

SPECIAL COMMITTEE: Secretary of Finance David Atalig, left, appears before the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding on Tuesday. K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol/For The Guam Daily Post

SAIPAN — Secretary of Finance David Atalig on Tuesday said the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands still has $4.9 million in federal relief funds.

He appeared before the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding to testify on the role that the Department of Finance plays in the CNMI COVID-19 emergency and response.

Atalig also reported on the expenditure of the $36 million Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, funding provided to the commonwealth by the federal government.

He said the government also identified $8 million from other sources, bringing the total funds available to the CNMI to $44 million.

Of the additional $8 million, $2 million came from the Commonwealth Casino Commission and $6 million from the Commonwealth Development Authority.

As of July 20, Atalig said, $13.1 million had been spent, "but we have (other) obligations that are still pending payment. I just scheduled for payment through our payable process for another $26 million."

Atalig said he came up with a projected spending plan for the $36 million in federal relief funds, which he then shared with the governor and the lieutenant governor.

"There was no direction or even suggestions. ... There was no conversation between the governor and myself about how to spend. As I said, we got this money (and) I'm holding onto this money to take care of our expenses as we continue this fight against the pandemic."

Atalig added, "I knew that we were spending to protect our borders, to protect our residents from this pandemic. I knew it was costly. (But) I always wanted to make sure that I had something for us at the commonwealth level to reserve, so to speak, because ... if I use it all up ... and a second wave comes ... what are we going to do?"