Mangkhut recovery continues

Sep 16, 2018

In this issue:

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Mangkhut recovery continues

Recovery continues in the wake of Typhoon Mangkhut, which hit our islands on Monday. My job is to make sure that federal agencies are fully and quickly responsive to the needs of the families affected and are working well with the Commonwealth government and private organizations, like the Red Cross. I also want to be part of the effort to make sure everyone is well-informed by providing regular updates on social media, the congressional website, and the e-kilili newsletter. Here is the latest update:

  • Health: Commonwealth Health Center and the Rota and Tinian health centers are fully operational.
  • Emergency shelter: Shelters in Rota and Saipan are open, serving a total of 56 individuals and families. The Tinian shelter is no longer needed and closed on Tuesday.
  • Water: Water service is on all three islands.
  • Transportation: Normal flight operations have resumed at all airports. All seaports are open. Emergency roads have been cleared.
  • Power: The power plants on Saipan and Tinian are 100 percent operational. Efforts continue to restore power to most parts of Rota.

Communications: Landline and cellular services on all three islands are restored with some limited interruptions.

Be prepared: Learn life saving skills

Our experience with Typhoon Soudelor made us all better prepared for Mangkhut this week. And our experience with Mangkhut can help improve our preparedness for the next disaster. During this September, National Disaster Preparedness Month, consider upgrading your life saving skills, which could be critical in a typhoon or any disaster:

To be safe: Be prepared.

Marianas funding in minibus

A potential government shutdown at the October 1 beginning of the fiscal year seems to have been averted as House and Senate leaders have reached agreement on a spending deal. Yesterday, Congress passed Energy and Water, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Legislative Branch appropriations bills that included:

  • Language requested by the Pacific delegates directing the Government Accountability Office to study the cost and impact of delivering care to veterans in outlying areas through VA facilities versus foreign hospitals. The study will inform decisions on how to ease the burden of getting care for veterans, improve access to care, and reduce overall costs. 
  • Language I wrote urging the Veterans Benefits Administration to increase services to veterans in the Northern Marianas and other underserved areas. The measure also directs the VA to develop a plan to expand services by piloting telehealth or using other community care providers.
  • $254 million, a $6-million increase, for the Weatherization Assistance Program and $55 million for the State Energy Program. Since 2010, the Marianas has received $1.5 million in weatherization assistance and $1.4 from the State Energy Program.
  • $50.7 million for Air Force divert airfield projects on Tinian. $46 million will go towards construction of a cargo pad with taxiway extension and $4.7 million for a maintenance support facility north of the Tinian airport.
  • $8.8 million--or $20,000 per congressional office--to pay interns. While it is common practice on Capitol Hill to hire unpaid interns, the Marianas delegate’s office has always compensated our interns for their work. Visit https://sablan.house.gov/serving-you/internships for more information.

Later this month Congress is expected to pass another appropriations package that will fund defense, education, health and labor and to also pass a Continuing Resolution that will keep the remainder of the federal agencies operating through December 7.

More CIP for water possible

The Water Resources Development Act Congress passed on Thursday could boost water project funding for the Marianas. The Act doubles the money authorized for the Safe Drinking Water Act, from the current $1 billion to $1.95 billion in 2021. The Marianas has received about $3.5 million annually from this fund since 2010, when I increased the insular area set-aside from 0.33 to 1.5 percent. The new WRDA gives us opportunity to double that amount through the annual appropriations process. WRDA also cancels a proposed deauthorization of $20 million for Saipan water infrastructure, from the 2007 Water Resources Act. The Army Corps sought the deauthorization for this and hundreds of other projects nationwide, because funds have never been appropriated. Keeping the $20 million authorization means we can keep working for that funding in the next Congress. We need the money: the Environmental Protection Agency estimates $198.4 million is needed in the Marianas to provide water service to households and protect our environment.

Cockfighting is a local decision

Washington should not tell the Marianas or any insular area how to regulate cockfighting. It is a local decision, in the Marianas best left to the Commonwealth Legislature. There is no federal interest. Those are the arguments my colleagues from Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and I laid out in a letter Monday to conferees on the Farm Bill. We opposed inclusion in the final bill of a Republican provision that prohibits cockfighting the U.S. territories. No matter how one feels about cockfighting, it is a culturally accepted practice in our islands and regulation or prohibition should be decided by the Commonwealth Legislature.

Protecting U.S. workers

The top Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. Bobby Scott (Virginia) has joined my effort to make the U.S. Department of Labor help the U.S. workers “temporarily” laid off at the casino construction site in July. They are still out of work, yet construction continues using foreign workers with H-2B visas. To get H-2B visas employers must promise that U.S. workers will not lose their jobs; and Labor is supposed to enforce that promise. That has not happened. I alerted Assistant Secretary of Labor Katherine Brunett McGuire in August and asked for action. And I exposed what was going on in a statement on the floor of the House of Representatives. This week, with Ranking Member Scott I took the issue directly to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. We want a full and official explanation from the Secretary of why his department is not enforcing the law to protect U.S. workers. After all we did in the U.S. Workforce Act to incentivize hiring U.S. workers, we cannot stand by while foreign workers take over good-paying U.S. jobs.

Where are the energy action plans?

The same law that included my extension of the immigration transition period from 2014 through 2019 also provided specific instructions to the Interior Department on lowering energy costs in the Marianas and other insular areas, but Interior has not followed through. This week, I led a request from the insular area Members of Congress to Assistant Secretary Doug Domenech, which I hope will change that. Public Law 113-235 required Interior to set up a team of technical, policy, and financial experts to develop an energy action plan specific to each insular area and to assist in putting the plan into action. Annual reports to Congress, detailing progress, were also required. Congress does provide funding for insular area energy improvements. A year ago, Northern Marianas College received $489,807 of that money to put solar panels on three buildings and the Commonwealth got $168,885 to study recovering methane gas from the sanitary landfill in Marpi and the former Puerto Rico dump. And P.L. 113-235 itself included the $366,407 for solar power at Garapan Public Market. But the coordinated, systematic, multi-year approach required by the law is missing. Meanwhile, high energy costs in the Marianas harm consumers, limit development, and drain capital from our economy. We need to refocus efforts to lower energy costs.

Making the case for voting rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the Organization of American States has agreed to the request last month from myself and other insular area representatives for a hearing in the case of Roselló v. United States. We also filed as friends of the court in this case in March. Puerto Rico’s Governor Pedro Rosseló is arguing that the United States violates its international law commitments by failing to ensure full democratic participation for the nearly 4 million U.S. citizens living in non-state areas of the U.S. We cannot vote for President; and we do not have full, voting representation in the U.S. Congress. The Commission’s decision to hold a hearing — on Friday, October 5, in Boulder, Colorado — is an unexpected opportunity to highlight the lack of voting rights in U.S. non-state areas at both national and international levels.

$677k to help sexual assault victims

The CNMI Criminal Justice Planning Agency is getting a total of $676,703 in grant funding from the Office of Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice. $619,042 comes from the STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program to support local efforts to strengthen victim services and to develop and strengthen law enforcement, prosecution and court strategies that combat violent crimes against women. $57,661 has been awarded under the Sexual Assault Services Formula Program which is intended to support rape crisis centers and other organizations that provide critical services to victims of sexual assault.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants:

Jobs:

Public Comment:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 5895 – Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2019 (Passed, 377-20)
  • H.R. 6227 – National Quantum Initiative Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • S. 97 – Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • Concurring in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 589 – Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 6198 – Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 2019 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 6720 – Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 5059 – State Insurance Regulation Preservation Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 6411 – FinCEN Improvement Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 6561 – Comprehensive Care for Seniors Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 6662 – Empowering Seniors’ Enrollment Decision Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 6690 – Fighting Fraud to Protect Care for Seniors Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 3635 – Local Coverage Determination Clarification Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 4824 – Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 2591 – To amend the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to modernize the funding of wildlife conservation, and for other purposes (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 3186 – Every Kid Outdoors Act (Passed, 383-2)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R.6806 – To amend the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to increase the minimum amount made available to territories under the Sexual Assault Services Program, and for other purposes.
  • H.Res.993 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Congress should take all appropriate measures to ensure that the United States Postal Service remains an independent establishment of the Federal Government and is not subject to privatization.
  • H.Res.1068 – Recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month and celebrating the heritage and culture of Latinos in the United States and the immense contributions of Latinos to the United States.

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.