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Local furloughed workers want financial help from ASG

Rep. Sanitoa: There must be a solution to assist these workers
fili@samoanews.com

After being bombarded with phone calls and emails from local residents, including ASG employees affected by the federal shutdown, Rep. Larry Sanitoa has asked the Lolo Administration for financial help to assist ASG workers whose salaries are paid by federal grants, but who are now not working.
 
Gov. Lolo Materials Moliga’s order for employees paid by federal sources to stay home went into effect on Wednesday and remains in place until Congressional action provides evidence that the federal government shutdown is lifted. Lolo is hoping that a solution is reached soon in Congress.
 
By late Wednesday morning Sanitoa sent an email to Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ Pili and the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, saying earlier in the day, he was “inundated with calls and emails from constituents and residents inquiring about reports on local personnel being placed on leave without pay because their job positions are funded by the federal grants.”
 
“While I appreciate the proactive approach by our government given the uncertainties and the complexity of the Federal Shutdown, I am perplexed by the fact that this shutdown was specifically for Non-Essential Federal Workers,” he said.
 
Sanitoa recalled recent budget hearings for fiscal year 2014, where it was reported to the Fono Joint Budget Committees that “about 90% of our entitlement and formula grants have been approved and awarded to each respective department and/or agencies.”
 
“...some of these approved funds are for emergency operations. Furthermore, it was my understanding from past practices that we would advance the use of local funds to compensate local personnel while we await federal draw down. This has been the norm on most grants,” he said.
 
The Tualauta faipule pointed out that the “immediate concern” is putting close to 2,000 ASG management and staff on leave without pay “is an economic disaster let alone an unwarranted hardship for the employees and their families.”
 
“There must be an alternative solution that should be considered as early as possible,” he added.
 
Gov. Lolo in his announcement to furlough ASG workers paid with federal funds said, “It is regrettable that this action is being taken, but we cannot jeopardize our financial integrity at the onset of this fiscal year. If the federal policy precludes the payment of lost work time, our approved budget lacks the financial capacity to absorb this cost.”
 
The Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs executive director, Nikolau Pula, in a Sept. 27 memo to insular area governments noted the majority of routine financial assistance functions such as the awarding of grants, the reviewing of proposals and amendments, the collection of reports as well as the processing of Technical Assistance and other grant payment — draw down — requests would cease during the federal shutdown period; and, only financial assistance functions related to on-going Capital Improvement Program projects could be maintained.
 
Samoa News learned yesterday that several other lawmakers were also contacted by their constituents seeking help on ways to get them back to work.
 
“There has to be something our own local government can do to provide a temporary solution in local funds until this madness is addressed by Congress,” said a local worker, who asked not be identified, but is paid by federal grants.
 
This was the same message from four other workers contacted by phone yesterday but they all declined to be identified by name. They also said that many of them who are paid by federal grants have already contacted their lawmakers to voice their concern.
 
During Wednesday's cabinet meeting, Lolo told directors he hopes for a resolution in the near future dealing with the federal shutdown, “otherwise, we will be facing some serious problems. Not only the impact on our small economy but the community and the government are all affected by this.”
 
He asked directors whose departments are affected “to bear with it and keep your offices running even if you’re by yourself. Do the best that you can and let us know what help you need.”
 
And for those departments operating with local funds, the governor asked those directors to share their resources with the affected departments.
 
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
 
The Chamber of Commerce is also concerned with the shutdown and its impact on residents and the economy, with the hope that a resolution is reached soon in Washington D.C.
 
“We hear of problems with the continuation of the WIC program for mothers and children and the various programs associated with the support of the elderly,” the Chamber said in a statement responding to Samoa News inquiries.
 
“These problems could not have come at a worse time. People who rely on assistance from federal programs have been finding it very difficult to make ends meet even with this assistance, as the cost of basic food stuff continues to rise,” it says.
 
“The Chamber hopes that common sense will soon prevail in Washington and normal program support will continue, thereby avoiding citizens in our community suffering undue hardship,” it says. “We are sure that the Lolo Administration will do all it can to assist those in need during this period of uncertainty.”
 
Two store owners contacted by phone yesterday said their main concern is that a prolonged shutdown will have affected workers unable to purchase goods and other items.
 
“We are also running into White Sunday very soon, and this shutdown is going to make it very difficult for people to make purchases, resulting in loss of business to stores,” said one owner, who asked not be identified by name. (White Sunday falls on Oct. 13 this year).



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