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Rumors of lost ARRA funding quashed at Senate briefing

Rumors of lost ARRA funding quashed at Senate briefing
fili@samoanews.com

American Samoa Economic Stimulus and Recovery Office acting director Peter James provided a briefing last Thursday to the Senate Government Operations Committee on the status of the territory’s share of the millions of dollars from ARRA, the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Committee chairman Sen. Velega Savali Jr. and other senators had asked for an update on the territory’s ARRA funding after rumors reached the Senate that a large chunk of money had been returned due to the government’s failure to allocate and use it prior to the deadline.

Senator Velega said he has heard that some $40 million in ARRA money had been returned, and wanted to know if it’s true.

“That is absolutely not true,” was the direct and clear reply from James, who also pointed out that only $100,000 under the State Stabilization Funds was returned, because it needed to be obligated by Sept. 30 of last year, but was not. 

He said the federal government would not allow any more reallocation of Stabilization Funds and emphasized that only a very small portion of the funds has been returned.

Sen. Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson said the fear in the Senate is that projects will not be completed on time as required by the federal government and this means money will be returned to the U.S. Treasury Department. He asked for additional information on the total ARRA funding allocation.

Peters said American Samoa received about $120 million and some $11.5 million in stimulus money has been “encumbered” and “but not yet spent”; however, this money must be spent by the end of this calendar year — and it’s expected to be met.

He said the most immediate need for American Samoa is for projects to be completed in this calendar year, adding the ASG stimulus office expects American Samoa to spent around 99% of all ARRA funding awarded to the territory.

Peters also explained that overall, American Samoa was awarded some $240 million in ARRA funding and this includes the $30 million for Section 1602, a housing program which is administered by the Development Bank of American Samoa and about $91 million to the American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority for its Broadband Linking the American Samoa Territory (BLAST) project.

However, he said the BLAST funding is not included in the ASG stimulus office report for ARRA funds, because “despite several requests”, ASTCA “would not allow us to review their financial records on this project.”

The entire money for Section 1602 has been drawn down, Peters stated.

The federal stimulus website, recovery.gov shows that of the total funds awarded to the territory, as of July 2012, ASTCA has received and spent $8.49 million in ARRA money.

ARRA funding for American Samoa is also the subject of a probe by the Senate Investigative Committee and subpoenas were issued several weeks ago to the local stimulus office to provide all documents, reports and information — including expenditures.

The SIC probe into the Section 1602 housing program however continues to be on the back burner, as a claim of ‘conflict of interest’ is still to be resolved. The former Development Bank of American Samoa president, Lolo M. Moliga, who is also a candidate for governor in this year’s general election has asked that the chairman of the SIC recuse himself, because of a ‘bad’ loan with DBAS.

Samoa News understands there has also been claims of political maneuvering, meaning the SIC probe is directed at the gubernatorial candidate and not at the Section 1602 housing program.



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