SAIPAN — The House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding on Monday conducted a hearing on Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Homeland Security and Emergency Management duties and responsibilities as they pertain to the COVID-19 emergency and response.
Chaired by Rep. Ralph Yumul, the special committee includes House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan and Reps. Luis John Castro, Joseph Leepan Guerrero and Tina Sablan.
Nonmembers present for the hearing included House Minority Leader Edwin Propst and Reps. Jose Itibus and Edmund Villagomez.
Representing HSEM were special assistant Gerald J. Deleon Guerrero – who was placed under oath for his testimony – and HSEM finance chief Vivian Hocog.
Also present in the gallery were representatives from the executive branch, including governor's authorized representative Patrick Guerrero, Governor's COVID-19 Task Force Chairman Warren Villagomez and press secretary Kevin Bautista.
Prior to hearing testimony, Rep. Yumul gave a brief history of the formation of the special committee, noting that it began in 2019 when the House of Representatives gave the administration 100% reprogram authority.
"We (also) allowed the administration to receive a loan from (the Marianas Public Land Trust) to cover extraordinary expenses related to Supertyphoon Yutu and so forth," he said.
He noted that the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation "handed over well over $90 million to cover government obligations from Supertyphoon Yutu."
"Now, we are in the process of participating in (the) Community Disaster Loan of up to $93 million. So part of the agreement was to form this special committee to monitor, ask questions and, in the end, report to the people of the CNMI," Yumul said.
"Earlier this year, we received additional funds from the federal government, $36 million under COVID-19 pandemic ... (through the Federal Emergency Management Agency), and I believe over $54 million was obligated within the general fund. We are here now to ask some questions and air out our concerns."