THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - January 07, 2022

Jan 10, 2022

____________________________________________________

The year 2021 was one of our most successful ever, as you will see in the following month-by-month rundown of our work for you in Washington. It is difficult to imagine how the Marianas would have survived another year of pandemic and economic downturn without massive assistance from Congress. Even with that help, life remains difficult and uncertain for so many in our islands, a reality I never forget.

January 

Coup thwarted. Incited by then-President Trump and some Members of Congress, insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to bring down the government by blocking certification of the November election. The assault failed, though five police officers died and 140 were injured defending our democracy. I spent much of the day standing on the sidewalk in the cold, while police deactivated the pipe bomb planted in the alleyway behind my apartment.

The good news: The Marianas Public School System was awarded $74.4 million and Northern Marianas College $3.3 million this month from the coronavirus relief measure Congress passed in December.

February 

Denied workers now PUA/FPUC eligible. At my urging, the new Biden administration reversed a harmful Trump interpretation of Section 2102(a)(3)(A)(ii)(I)(kk) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. As a result, individuals, who had their work-hours reduced or were furloughed, while their place of employment stayed open, and who were denied assistance for any week, became eligible for PUA and FPUC retroactively. For CW-1 workers laid off because of COVID, this eligibility began with claims filed after December 27, 2020, as a result of the CARES Act amendment I included in U.S. Public Law 116-260.

March 

Help is here: American Rescue Plan eacted. Democrats (with no Republican votes) passed the American Rescue Plan Act, providing economic relief to the people of the Marianas and Americans everywhere, including:

  • $1,400 taxpayer rebates,
  • Extended unemployment benefits up to $645 per week,
  • $483 million to the Commonwealth for premium pay to teachers, health staff, and other essential workers, for water and sewer infrastructure, and for government operations,
  • Marianas families made eligible for monthly Child Tax Credit payments of $250 or $300, depending on the age of the child,
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families through a special provision I added to cover the Marianas, 
  • Earned Income Tax Credit for the Marianas with permanent federal funding,
  • $160 million for Marianas elementary and secondary schools and $5.8 million for Northern Marianas College,
  • Child care: $5 million to help Marianas providers open or reopen, 
  • Money for vaccines, testing, personal protective equipment,
  • $30 million more for Marianas food assistance,
  • $9 million in emergency aid for airport operations, 
  • Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance Grants funding increase, new Restaurant Revitalization Fund created.

April 

Strong support for shark protection. On Earth Day, I reintroduced the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 2811, which bans the possession and sale of shark fins in the United States. My legislation mirrors Marianas law that already bans the sale, purchase, or possession of shark fins. A majority of House members, 237, from both sides of the aisle signed on as cosponsors.

May

Biden supports insular Medicaid. My request for insular area Medicaid improvement to be part of President Biden’s first budget was successful. The President’s FY22 budget proposed eliminating Medicaid funding caps for the territories and aligning the matching rate with the States. In January, I introduced H.R. 265, legislation to take the first step, ending the caps. The bill now has 74 cosponsors.

June 

Giving insular vets a new voice. I introduced legislation creating a VA Advisory Committee for the U.S. Outlying Areas and Freely Associated States. Composed of veterans from the Northern Mariana islands, American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau the committee would advise the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on how to improve benefits and services for veterans in the insular areas. H.R. 3730 passed the House in November.

July 

Forgiveness of Commonwealth's $93.7m loan. As the House readied the Fiscal Year 2022 spending bills, I successfully added language to the Homeland Security appropriation to forgive the $93,734,930 the Commonwealth borrowed from the federal government through the Community Disaster Loan program this year. Given how shaky our economy is because of the pandemic, I do not want the people of the Marianas saddled with so much debt.

August 

American Rescue Paln funds to Marianas. The Public School System spending plan for the $160,074,578 we included for the Marianas in the American Rescue Plan was approved this month. The federal funds will continue to protect the jobs of PSS teachers and staff in light of reduced local appropriations for education. Also approved: the Commonwealth’s plan for distributing the increased child tax credit included in the American Rescue Plan Act. We added $300,000 to the law for the Commonwealth to cover the administrative cost of monthly payments. The Rescue Plan increased the credit to $3,6000 per child for children under age six and $3,000 for children age six through 17. By November Marianas families had received $28,726,000.

September

No Medicaid "cliff" for Marianas. Based on legislation we passed in 2019, the Biden Health and Human Services Department, under the direction of my former House colleague Xavier Becerra, has decided that federal Medicaid funding for the Marianas will be $64,010,000 in fiscal year 2022. Under the previous administration funding was expected to drop to about $6 million. Secretary Becerra also decided 2019’s U.S. Public Law 116-94 means Marianas Medicaid will now increase by an annual inflation factor based on this year’s $64 million, thus eliminating future funding cliffs and protecting the thousands in the Marianas who rely on Medicaid for their health care.

October 

Food stamps: more families eligible, benefits up 23%. Because of the $30 million we included in the American Rescue Plan for Marianas food aid, about 2,000 more families became eligible for the Commonwealth’s Nutritional Assistance Program and benefits increased 23 percent on October 1. For a family of four on Saipan the monthly benefit maximum is now $1,231, on Rota and the Northern Islands $1,498, and on Tinian $1,301 - more than double benefits 10 years ago. This is higher than in the contiguous 48 U.S. States, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I asked President Biden to establish $30 million as the new baseline for Marianas food aid, which he did in his FY22 budget and which the House agreed in the Agriculture appropriation in July.

November 

Smithsonian will add Marianas flag.  The Director of the American History Museum agreed to my request that the Marianas flag and the flags of American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands be added to the display of U.S. flags surrounding the Museum, acknowledging that all Americans should be represented in this way. Currently, only the non-state flags of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are included. The planned day for raising the new insular area flags is June 14, 2022, Flag Day. The American History Museum on the National Mall in Washington is part of the Smithsonian Institution.

December 

More good news on Medicaid. Congress agreed and President Biden signed a continuing funding resolution that extends the current Medicaid 83/17 federal/local match arrangement for the Marianas and other insular areas through February 18, 2022. Without this extension the Commonwealth’s cost share would have reverted from 17 percent to 45 percent and put at risk those insured by Medicaid. We first set the local match at 17 percent— the lowest in the nation—in Public Law 116-94 two years ago. I led the effort by insular area representatives to make sure the 83/17 FMAP, as it is called, did not fall through the legislative cracks, when the continuing resolution was negotiated.

- ### -

Now we look forward to an equally successful 2022, working for the people of the Northern Mariana Islands. 

Marianas is using COVID funeral aid 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency this week reported continuing use of the COVID funeral assistance program in the Marianas. Assistance to those who lost someone from the disease now stands at $17,584. Congress provided this aid in the 2021 Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Applicants for assistance must be U.S. citizens, non-citizen nationals, or qualified aliens. The death must have occurred in the United States and have been caused by the coronavirus. To apply for the aid, call toll-free to (844) 684-6333 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. More information is available at FEMA.gov.

Defense Act with NMI bills now law

Legislation to help Marianas small business, increase student STEM participation and opportunities for military spouses, and make the AMBER Alert program effective in the U.S. insular areas all became law. I authored the four bills, H.R. 6021, H.R. 6786, H.R. 7712, H.R. 4614, and then included them in the National Defense Authorization Act, when the House passed it in July.

A new Congress

The 115th U.S. Congress convened on Tuesday, January 3, 2017. I know we can work successfully in a Republican-led Congress, because we have for the last two years.

Living on a food stamp budget: It’s not a SNAP

Thousands of families in the Northern Marianas depend on the Commonwealth food stamp program to put food on the table. They receive a maximum of $4.87 per day for each family member. But that’s only half what people on Guam receive, because Guam is included in the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

Grants:

Jobs:

Public Comments:

THIS WEEK

The House was in recess for the District Work Period.

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.