In this issue:
VA Committee reviews Choice.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin and Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) testified at my first hearing as a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on Tuesday. The purpose was to review the Choice Program, which allows veterans, like those in the Marianas, who live far from regular VA facilities, to get health services from local doctors. Dr. Shulkin and Senator McCain agreed more could be done to improve Choice and other VA community care programs. I spoke about the frustration of many veterans in the Marianas, who have difficulty accessing benefits and services they have earned. To help improve that situation is why I asked for a waiver to join the Veterans’ Affairs committee.
Also this week, the Committee reported several bills:
- H.R. 369, extending the Choice program beyond the current sunset date of August 7;
- H.R. 1259, giving the Secretary authority to remove, demote, or suspend employees for poor performance or misconduct;
- H.R. 1181, requiring a judicial finding before barring a veteran from buying or owning a gun;
- H.R. 1367, expanding the Secretary’s authority to hire certain staff, including physicians; and
- H.R. 1379, extending Post-9/11 educational benefits to all Purple Heart recipients.
New health bill ignores insular areas.
When President Trump promised “insurance for everyone,” I had hopes the resulting legislation, replacing Obamacare, would include Americans living in the insular areas. It does not. I spoke out against this failure at a mark-up of three smaller health care bills in the House Education and the Workforce Committee this week. The Obamacare replacement, which was approved by two other committees on Thursday, has tax credits to help middle-income people purchase health insurance and per-capita funding for the Medicaid insurance program for those with lower incomes. A tax credit, covered by the federal government, was a key proposal in the letter I led at the beginning of this Congress setting out the health care goals of the five congressional representatives from the insular areas — Republicans and Democrats. A per-capita Medicaid grant could also be an improvement for our areas. But the bill now moving forward only covers persons in states or the District of Columbia. The insular areas have our work cut out for us in the weeks ahead.
Insular areas must be in Trump CIP plan.
The insular areas must be included in the $1 trillion infrastructure plan that President Trump has promised. That was my message at Thursday's hearing of the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs. The hearing provided an opportunity to establish a strong record for what our infrastructure needs are, so that when the President’s proposal is legislated, the Subcommittee will be able to advocate for us. Mr. Nikolao Pula, Acting Assistant Secretary of Interior, provided testimony on capital improvement project grants his Office of Insular Affairs manages. OIA allocates grant funds among the island governments based on how well each manages its money. Over the years, less and less money has been going to the Marianas under this system. I pointed out that Saipan still does not have 24-hour water, and public health and safety concerns should be prioritized – or at least taken into consideration – when OIA distributes CIP funds.
Shark fin legislation introduced.
The Northern Marianas, which enacted legislation in 2011, is a leader in the effort to prevent shark finning; and I continue that work at the national level. This week House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-California) and I introduced legislation to end buying and selling shark fins in the U.S. We were joined by 22 of our House colleagues. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 1456, is similar to the legislation I authored in the last Congress, H.R. 5584, and prohibits the possession, purchase, or sale of shark fin, except for subsistence or research purposes. We must stop this cruel practice, which destroys over 70 million sharks a year and has already put several species of sharks on the brink of extinction.
- YouthBuild Program – The YouthBuild program simultaneously addresses several core issues important to low-income communities: affordable housing, education, employment, leadership development, and energy efficiency. The YouthBuild model balances project-based academic learning and occupational skills training to prepare disadvantaged youth for career placement. Closing date is May 9, 2017. For more information, go to https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=292310.
- Farm Business Management and Benchmarking – The Farm Business Management and Benchmarking Competitive Grants Program provides funds to improve the farm management knowledge and skills of agricultural producers, and establish and maintain a national, publicly available farm financial management database to support improved farm management. Closing date is April 17, 2017. For more information, go to https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=292256.
- Congressional staff assistant – Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan is seeking a Staff Assistant in the Washington, D.C. congressional office. Responsibilities include answering phones, maintaining the front office, greeting visitors and giving Capitol tours, answering constituent requests for general information, assisting the office manager with scheduling and bookkeeping, and assisting staff with other various administrative and legislative duties in a supportive role. Excellent writing, verbal and organizational skills are essential. Ties to the Northern Mariana Islands preferred. Qualified candidates should submit a cover letter, resume and two writing samples to MP00.Job@mail.house.gov. No phone calls or drop-ins, please.
- Electronics Technician – The U.S. Atlantic Fleet has an opening for an Electronics Technician in Guam. Incumbent will develop, plan, and perform inspections, tests, evaluations, operation, maintenance and quality control of all systems, equipment and facilities used in the Naval Computer Telecommunications Station. Position is open until March 13, 2017. For more information, go to https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/465298500/.
On the Floor
- H.R. 1362 – To name the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Faleomavaega Eni Fa’aua’a Hunkin VA Clinic (Passed, 411 - 2)
- H.R. 1174 – Fairness For Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
- S. 442 – National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
- H.R. 1301 – Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2017 (Passed, 371 - 48)
- H.R. 985 – Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017 (Passed, 220 - 201)
- H.R. 725 – Innocent Party Protection Act (Passed, 224 - 194)
- H.R. 720 – Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2017 (Passed, 230 - 188)
Legislation I Co-sponsored
- H.R. 502 – To permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund
- H.R. 632 – Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act
- H.R.1362 – To name the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Faleomavaega Eni Fa'aua'a Hunkin VA Clinic