Senator calls for more money for housing and businesses after he hears summary of COVID fund spending
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Sen. Malaepule Saite Moliga believes more funds should be allocated for housing and small businesses from the $479 million that American Samoa has received under the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021.
The American Samoa Recovery Plan Performance Report for the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) 2021 Report, shows that $10 million is for “Aid to small businesses” project, which is to provide loans or grants for covering payroll, mortgages or rent, and other operating costs as a result of the public health emergency and measures taken to contain the spread of the virus.
It’s also to provide assistance to small businesses to adopt safer operating procedures, weather periods of closure, or mitigate financial hardship resulting from the COVID–19 public health emergency.
Furthermore, it’s to provide loans or grants to mitigate financial hardship such as declines in revenues or impacts of periods of business closure — for example by supporting payroll and benefits costs, costs to retain employees, mortgage, rent, or utilities costs, and other operating costs, according to a summary overview of the project.
The report states that the financial aid prioritizes tourism, travel & hospitality sectors and other impacted industries. And the Commerce Department (DOC) is the designated ASG agency to oversee this project.
For housing, the reports shows $10 million for the “Affordable House Program” project, which will provide assistance and access to affordable housing development to increase supply of affordable and high-quality living units.
“Developing an affordable home loan program to improve communities will strengthen the community against the harm as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a summary overview of the project, that will involve DOC, ASPA Office, DBAS and the Territorial Bank of American Samoa.
The performance report was also submitted to senators during a recent Senate Rules Committee hearing regarding the ARPA projects and funding. ARPA Oversight Office executive director, Keith Gebauer was called to answer questions and explain the funding allocations for various projects approved by the governor and lieutenant governor.
During the hearing, Malaepule, who is member of the Development Bank of American Samoa board of directors, questioned the allocation for small businesses and housing. “Don’t you think small businesses and housing, needs more than” what’s allocated in the report, Malaepule asked Gebauer, who was also informed of a DBAS request for funds from the ARPA money.
Malaepule pointed out that most local residents depend on DBAS for loans for improvements on homes and for small businesses.
Gebauer responded by first telling the committee that it’s “important that we take a step back” and explained that before this office was created on June 22nd and the law was passed in March, there was a running list of the number of projects and priorities for the ARPA funds.
He said the initial list submitted for possible projects and funding “was three to four pages long in trying to address a variety of concerns and needs” in the territory.
“Some of those projects and needs — as important as they were — weren’t eligible for the funding. Some of these other projects, because of the limited funding — as much as $479 million is a huge amount — it doesn’t cover all our needs.”
“So at the end of that, the governor and lieutenant governor had to prioritize what was most important and do the best they can in allocating how they could best serve the territory across-the-board,” he pointed out.
Gebauer never gave a direct reply to Malaepule’s question and details were revealed during the hearing about the DBAS request. Details of the ARPA performance report for American Samoa, already submitted to the federal grantor was publicly released last month online and is available at: https://www.americansamoa.gov/arpa.