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Faipule says CARES Act funds should have been included in FY2021 proposed budget

Tualauta Rep. Larry Sanitoa.

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With most of the federal coronavirus grant funding set to expire in the Fall of next year, Tualauta Rep. Larry Sanitoa believes this temporary federal monies should have been included by the Lolo Administration in the proposed budget of fiscal year 2021 - which begins Oct. 1, 2020 through Sept. 31, 2021.

During Tuesday’s Fono Joint Budget Committee hearing, ASG Office of Budget and Planning director Catherine D. Saelua made clear to lawmakers that none of the $175 million that ASG received under the Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act is included as part of funding for the new fiscal year 2021 budget.

Responding to media follow-up questions, Sanitoa — who raised the issue with Saelua during budget hearings — explained the reasons behind his request to the budget director. He also said that CARES Act money is no different from federal grants which require Fono review.

He points out that most of these grants — if not all of them — will expire in September 2021. “And therefore these funds should be part of the FY 2021 budget as required by law,” he told Samoa News, and noted that these are new funds.

“The COVID 19 funding under the CARES Act all have specific guidelines and requirements,” he said yesterday. “It behooves the Fono members to understand these guidelines and requirements and how these funds are supposed to be spent.”

Sanitoa recalled that in 2009, American Samoa received over $200 million under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding. He points out that this funding was included in the budget process as most of the funding took two to three years to be used.

(Samoa News notes that ARRA funding allocation was during the Togiola Administration.)

He said the new administration — comes in January 2021 — “will have to deal with the audits of the COVID 19 funding next year and therefore it is critical for Fono members to get the latest information on how these funds are being used now and in FY 2021.”

ASG Treasury have already submitted to the Fono an Aug. 4th financial report on allocation of its $175 million share of CARES Act money, which the governor had said in his letter to Fono leaders gave the local economy a major boost.

“The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a tsunami of cash inflow into our territory, bringing in unprecedented amounts of federal aid estimated at $175 million,” Lolo wrote to Fono leaders. For example, the Economic Impact Payment, or stimulus payments of $1,200 for each qualified taxpayer “injected $34 million directly into the territory’s economy.” (See Samoa News edition Sept. 3rd for details)