Your congressional office has completed submission of FY18 spending recommendations to the House Appropriations Committee. The Committee makes no distinction between those Members of Congress representing people in states and those representing non-state areas, such as the Mariana Islands. Among our top requests are increases in Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title I funding and in Safe Drinking Water and Clean Water funds to take advantage of the improved allocation formulas for insular areas we have successfully obtained. As always, we are supporting funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and for coral reefs and ocean protection. Constituents have forcefully communicated the need to keep these programs in light of President Trump’s proposal to cut them. I also succeeded in having 82 other Members of Congress sign onto a request for Gulf War Illness Research, which I co-led with my Veterans Affairs Committee colleague, Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan. FY18 begins on October 1.
Tourists from China are important to the Marianas economy. They now account for 35 percent of all visitors. Most enter under a parole system agreed by the Obama administration in 2009. But President Trump’s executive order of January 25 directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to review the legality of parole use by the previous administration. That could hurt Marianas tourism. On Tuesday, Governor Ralph Torres made the economic case for continuing parole directly with President Trump—the first time, I believe, a Marianas Governor has met a President in the Oval Office. Afterwards, the Governor called and I congratulated his success at raising this issue to the highest level. The next day, I met with new Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, also about the importance of Chinese tourism to the Marianas, and about the misuse of CW permits, which the Governor and I raised in our letter of March 16. I look forward to continuing to work together with the Governor on these important issues.
Veterans in the Marianas and other remote areas will continue to be able to get medical care from their local physicians, rather than traveling off island to a Veterans clinic, until early 2018. Wednesday, the House approved an extension of the Veterans Choice Program, which would otherwise end on August 7. The Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where I now serve, passed the extension bill unanimously with a few changes to existing law, including making the VA the primary payer for care outside a VA clinic, even for non-service connected conditions. We also allowed the VA to share a veteran’s health records with outside care providers, unless the veteran objects. The extension gives us time to continue working on legislation to improve Choice and the VA’s community care programs further without disrupting veterans care. The bill now heads to President Trump for signature.
FEMA has added a new feature to its mobile app, providing safety tips on how to prepare for and get through typhoons and other disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s app is available for Apple, Android, and Blackberry and can be programmed to issue weather alerts for the Mariana Islands and four other user-defined locations. For more information go to https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app.
On the Floor
Legislation I Co-sponsored
The House is in recess for the District Work Period.