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Mauga: Use disaster assistance money for purpose intended

  Secretary of Samoa Affairs Mauga Tasi Asuega
“Take it easy” —fai fai malie” — “e poto lava le palagi” Mauga says

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Secretary of Samoan Affairs, Mauga T. Asuega has cautioned local residents who received federal disaster assistance as a result of Tropical Storm Gita, not to misuse federal money.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved more than $22.22 million in Individual & Households Program (IHP) for American Samoa due to the storm — with over $13.1 million for Housing Assistance (HA) and more than $6.81 million for Other Needs Assistance (ONA), according to the federal agency’s public online records, as of yesterday. Additionally, FEMA approved for Gita, 6,062 Individual Assistance applications.

For Public Assistance Grants (which go to ASG) $451,835 is obligated for Emergency Work, FEMA online records say.

At the US Small Business Administration, the agency approved as of July 3rd — more than $10 million in disaster loans for American Samoa businesses and residents impacted by the storm. Of that total amount, over $1.77 million is for businesses and more than $8.28 million for residents to help rebuild and recover from this disaster.

Speaking at last week’s cabinet meeting, Mauga pointed out that many homes that were impacted by the storm are now going through reconstruction or repairs and even homes, which were considered totally destroyed are being built from scratch.

For those who received federal disaster assistance, Mauga cautioned, “take it easy” —fai fai malie”, and he recalled what Samoan elders had stated years ago, “e poto lava le palagi” — “the palagi is smart.”

He noted that the smart palagi will return to check and review as to whether financial assistance given to local residents following Gita was used for the right purpose.

To all those who received federal disaster assistance, Mauga strongly recommends that these local residents use the money for the purpose it was awarded, because if there are problems discovered, American Samoa will face a failing grade instead of an “A”.

He reminded the public that honesty is important as “you will never know when the next natural disaster will happen” and American Samoa will again need help of the feds.

According to Mauga, the Office of Samoan Affairs and the local Department of Homeland Security will be conducting checks on these storm funded construction jobs, adding that the government’s goal, is for the public to “do the job right, do it honestly.”

And that is also the wish and hopes of Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga for American Samoa when it comes to disaster financial assistance which helps local residents rebuilt their lives.

Mauga cautioning local residents comes at a time when there remains lingering reports — which won’t go away — of local residents, who are recipients of FEMA funding,  using the financial assistance for other purposes — such as buying new cars, taking trips, or purchasing other things.

ASG officials are concerned that such a practice will not only have a “negative” image on American Samoa, with the feds, but will also backfire on those who misuse the money, especially if they are affected by another natural disaster in the future.

Storm related construction work has given the local economy a boost, not only with new money coming in to the territory but also some additional jobs in the construction industry.