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Budget director makes it clear — there is no CARES funding for FY 2021

ASG Office of Budget and Planning director Catherine D. Saelua

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — None of the millions of dollar allocated to American Samoa under the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act is included as part of funding for the new fiscal year 2021 budget, which begins on Oct. 1st this year.

This was made clear by ASG Office of Budget and Planning director Catherine D. Saelua during yesterday’s continuing Fono Joint Budget hearings for FY 2021, after the question was raised last week during budget hearings for other ASG departments and offices.

Tualauta Rep. Larry S. Sanitoa reminded the committee that American Samoa has been allocated $175 million in CARES Act funds. He says these are new funds and in accordance with local law, any new funds into the government require legislative review before spending.

Asked if any of the CARES Act money is included in the FY 2021 budget, Saelua said no. (Saelua represents the ASG Budget Office throughout the entire Fono budget hearing review process.)

Since July, when the Fono convened for the 4th Regular session, several lawmakers had publicly called for an oversight hearing on all COVID-19 funds arguing that it’s required under local law when it comes to any new revenue source received by the government in the middle of a fiscal year.

ASG officials told Samoa News that these funds have a specific timeline to be spent, which is by the middle of 2021, and there are also specific requirements on how funds are to be spent — depending on what they are allocated for.

“The governor has already set up a special committee to ensure that all this money is spent in accordance with how it’s awarded to American Samoa,” one of the officials told Samoa News yesterday.

While the Fono appears to have had no input on spending of the new COVID-19 funds, ASG Treasury submitted a financial report last month to the Fono on how the money is allocated and it also showed several surprises, including the $500,000 allocation to the Fono for use of lawmakers to work remotely.

But that allocation has been scrutinized and denied by the US Treasury’s Office of Inspector General with those senators and representatives that did not return the money, according to the OIG, will be required to ‘pay it back’.