More than $500K was paid out in overtime for Gita efforts
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — More than $500K was paid out in overtime hours for American Samoa Government employees who worked during the recovery efforts following Tropical Storm Gita early this year, according to a revelation in the fiscal year 2018 performance report for the Department of Human Resources.
Among the accomplishments in FY 2018, according to the report, is DHR’s work in connecting with recovery efforts following Gita, which impacted the territory in February this year, with US President Donald J. Trump issuing a major disaster declaration for the territory that resulted in federal assistance for American Samoa.
GITA OVERTIME WORK
After declaring a State of Emergency due to Gita, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga issued a Feb. 13 executive order outlining, among other things, emergency procurement, and hiring (including overtime), which come under the purview of the Human Resources director.
When the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was winding down its local work, a memo went out in mid-May for directors to make sure that employees who were engaged in Gita-related tasks do not incur any further overtime and ensure that associated recovery tasks are performed during regular working hours.
There has been speculation about how much ASG paid out in overtime — that would be reimbursed by FEMA — to employees who were required to work or were assigned duties during Gita recovery efforts.
In its report, which was submitted last week to the Governor’s Office, DHR explained that ASG employees worked overtime hours in support of the territory-wide recovery and repair efforts. Additionally, that DHR worked diligently throughout the major disaster declaration period to accurately record employee hours worked.
The department’s Payroll Division was charged with, among other things, implementing account reconciliation, employee time and attendance review (e.g., timecard review), payroll processing, distinguishing between exempt and non-exempt employees for purposes of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and distributing overtime paychecks to ASG employees.
“DHR has paid out overtime hours worked due to Tropical Storm Gita totaling $565,030.64,” the report says, but didn’t specify how many employees were paid overtime.
DISASTER UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE
DHR announced in May this year that it was accepting applications for federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) for workers in American Samoa who lost their jobs and self-employed individuals who have been unable to work due to damages sustained from Gita.
According to a news release, sent by FEMA, DUA benefits in American Samoa are up to $180.00 a week. Deadline for filing DUA claims was June 21st. (See Samoa News May 24, 2018 edition for details).
In its FY 2018 performance report, DHR said it successfully applied for DUA funds, in which “benefits were immediately paid out by DHR to the individuals who applied, after individual assessments were made and applicant eligibility was determined.”
“Due to the small number of applicants who became unemployed as a direct result of the storm, benefits were also paid out to eligible farmers, which included self-employed workers,” the report continues.
“Based on previous site visitations, local farmers have recovered and returned to their normal routine of sowing/planting,” said DHR. “In the same vein, self-employed workers have also rebuilt their businesses and are on a steady path towards earning sufficient income to support themselves and their families.”
DHR didn’t detail how much it received in DUA funds and how many recipients received this financial support; and Samoa News wasn’t immediately able to obtain from the federal level, how much in DUA funding was approved for American Samoa.
DHR says in the report that it finalized and submitted to FEMA, a request for public assistance funding for damages the department sustained following Gita. According to DHR, 2,000 employee records and air conditioning units were damaged because of rain water and power surges.
Among DHR's accomplishments, as noted in the performance report, is that it represented American Samoa and successfully completed data integration as part of a partnership with Palau, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The four jurisdictions submitted to the US Labor Department in 2016 a joint application for funding to improve service delivery through automation, prevention of long-term unemployment, and data integration.
USDOL awarded $2 million and Guam was designated as the lead for data integration and technical training purposes.
DHR explains that currently, the data sharing and integration of the performance reports for American Samoa's core partners — the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation; Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) administered by DHR Employment and Training Division; and American Samoa Community College’s Adult Education Literacy and Extended Learning Program — depend on internet capabilities and speed.
As such, the success of this project relies on the bandwidth and connections to the Hawaiki submarine cable system for support, DHR explained.
The Re-employment and System Integration Dislocated Worker Grant requires that core partners work with WIOA to assist with the integration and sharing of program data. This integration is ongoing until the project completion date, slated for June 30, 2019.
In FY 2018, DHR applied and was awarded a $60,000 grant in July from the US Interior Department to enhance government efficiency through a review and update of the ASG classification and pay plans.
“This grant award will be used to refocus the workforce delivery of services to the territory and our people,” according to DHR.
Overall, DHR says it plans to refocus the workforce delivery of services, and it seeks to bolster the management, storage, update, and safekeeping of all official personnel giles in its charge.
The DHR report cites several trainings, including those dealing with federal laws, carried out in FY 2018.