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Senate hears latest on FEMA funds for Tautua Hall

TOFL says no non-profit 501C3 certificate seems to be the hiccup
fili@samoanews.com
Tautua Hall after the September 2009 Tsunami disaster that caused the death of 34 people island-wide, with six people in the village of Pago Pago. [SN archive photo — Sept. 2009]

Sen. Tuiasina S. Esera has called on the Territorial Office of Fiscal Reform (TOFR) to do all possible to help Pago Pago Village Council secure federal disaster funds to repair the former Tautua Hall, damaged by the September 2009 tsunami.
 
The call was made Tuesday during a Senate committee hearing chaired by Tuiasina, following a request from Sen. Mauga T. Asuega for the Senate to find out from TOFR the status of tsunami repairs and renovations in Maoputasi County.
 
For Pago Pago alone, Mauga said, there are several matters that still need to be addressed, such the shoreline and stream area. He also reminded his colleagues that six people died in his village during the disaster.
 
TOFR, whose executive director Alfonso ‘Pete’ Galeai appeared at the hearing with his deputy, Salu Tuigamala, is charged with overseeing FEMA funded projects.
 
Asked about the status of projects in the Bay Area — from Fagaalu to Aua villages, which are also part of Maoputasi county — the TOFR officials said they have just completed a “status report” for submission to FEMA and a copy will be provided immediately to the Senate.
 
Tuigamala informed senators that the notice to testify before the committee only stated that she was to speak about the Pago Pago Community Center, previously known as the Tautua Hall, which is overseen by the Pago Pago Village Council.
 
She explained that following a meeting between representatives of FEMA and TOFR and the village council, FEMA had agreed to go ahead with funds to renovate the center.
 
She said there were two choices under which the project could be funded: either the Office of Samoan Affairs or TOFR — both of which are government entities — or as a non-profit organization.
 
The village council chose TOFR and this “was fine” and so the worksheet was written up but later the village council decided to go on their own as a non-profit organization to apply for public assistance funds and this was also fine with FEMA, Tuigamala explained.
 
However, FEMA later determined the village council was not eligible due to “insufficient information” needed to write up the project worksheet, she said adding that the missing document was the non-profit 501C certificate for non profit organizations from the feds.
 
The TOFR deputy said the only document received by FEMA stating that the village council was a non-profit group was a letter at the time from the Attorney General, but FEMA responded the “letter was not sufficient” and needed the 501C certificate.
 
Because the time required for submission of the certificate was not met, FEMA funds were not available to the village council, Tuigamala said and pointed out that she is not sure as to what has transpired since that time, because the matter was between the village council, FEMA and ASG’s Government Authorized Representative (GAR) at the time.
 
Mauga responded that he wanted to meet with Tuigamala to further discuss this issue.
 
Senator Tuiasina called on TOFR to provide any assistance available to help the village council secure federal funds to rebuild Tautua Hall, which is an important center for the village, as it had been widely used prior to the tsunami.
 
Galeai responded that if “we do have the 501 certification for the village council, we can go back to FEMA” with the certificate and seek reconsideration from FEMA. He stated that TOFR won’t give up on this or other FEMA funded projects.
 
Responding to committee questions, Tuigamala explained that total project worksheets written up on public assistance from FEMA for the tsunami is over $100 million, with FEMA paying 90% while local matching funds are 10%.
 
“The way it works, we pay first and we get reimbursed for the 90% from FEMA” later, she explained. “Most of the public assistance funded projects are completed, except for the large projects.”
 
The rebuilding of the Satala power plant — destroyed by the tsunami — is over $50 million and “carries the bulk of the funding that has been awarded and obligated by FEMA, but this project hasn’t started yet,” she said.
 
Once the “status report” from TOFR is received and reviewed, the Senate plans to call another hearing in the future to get more details on any specific projects that may require additional information.
 
The last time the Senate held a hearing on tsunami projects was two years ago.



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