THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - December 06, 2019

Dec 9, 2019

In this issue:

  • $244 million more for disaster recovery
  • 3,000 disaster CWs okayed
  • Southern High decorates Marianas tree
  • Aid for NMI students protected
  • Panel discusses NMI college access
  • Restoring and protecting wildlife
  • Holiday messages to troops
  • NMI will be eligible for VA grant
  • New GI Bill housing rates now in effect
  • Kilili Time Capsule
  • Opportunities
  • Legislative highlights

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$244 million more for disaster recovery

$244 million that Congress appropriated for recovery work in the Marianas is now available. The $244 million Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery, or CDBG-DR, is meant for long-term, “unmet needs” not covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration, or the Army Corps of Engineers. Immediately after the appropriation in Public Law 116-20 last June, your congressional office met with CDBG-DR officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. We wanted to be sure communication was in place with the Commonwealth officials, who would be responsible for writing the plan of use for the money. Shortly after, HUD sent a team to the Marianas, where their primary point of contact is Mr. Jesse S. Palacios, Corporate Director of the Northern Marianas Housing Corporation. HUD reports that its CDBG-DR staff based in San Francisco has maintained bi-weekly calls with the CNMI since September. In a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson on Tuesday, acknowledging the work of his team, I asked that he continue this oversight to ensure the CDBG-DR grant is used promptly and properly. And I have now learned HUD plans to visit the Marianas again for a “launching a grant” technical assistance visit within 30 days of the formal funding announcement in the Federal Register. $244 million is the largest single grant of federal funds in Commonwealth history.

3,000 disaster CWs okayed

The House Natural Resources Committee agreed to my bill permitting an additional 3,000 CW permits for disaster recovery work on Thursday. The Disaster Recovery Workforce Act, H.R. 4479, would allow the extra 3,000 permits to be used for construction workers, which current law does not. Although we have ample federal funds, lack of labor has slowed recovery from last year’s typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu. As I noted in my prepared statement for the Committee meeting, “FEMA has stockpiled pallets and pallets of construction materials at the Koblerville Fire Station for its Permanent Housing Construction program” since February. “But it was not until September that FEMA broke ground on the first home. ‘Limited labor’ was a key reason, according to FEMA’s external affairs officer in the Marianas.” Meanwhile, 385 families are signed up for the new homes. The 3,000 workers would be available for 3 years and could not replace U.S. workers or undercut wages.

Aid for NMI students protected

Marianas students enrolled in online programs at the University of Phoenix will no longer be at risk of being ineligible for federal financial aid. The news follows your congressional office’s work to confirm with the U.S. Department of Education that the CNMI is in compliance with federal regulations requiring a complaint process for residents enrolled in online programs based outside the Commonwealth. Last month, a constituent forwarded to the congressional office a letter from the University of Phoenix, denying the constituent federal financial aid because the school believed the CNMI did not have a compliant process and was therefore prohibited from processing financial aid for Marianas students. Affected students should contact the University of Phoenix to confirm their financial aid status.

Panel discusses NMI college access

Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholars invited congressional staff to join a panel discussion at the National Press Club on new research into Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander college enrollment and degree attainment. Legislative Director Adam Tanga answered questions about our work to provide tuition assistance to NMC graduates and other measures I included in the College Affordability Act to support our students’ success. Pictured: Bill Moses of the Kresge Foundation, Adam Tanga, Charles Sasaki of Hawaii’s Windward Community College, Noël Harmon of APIA Scholars, Sina Uipi of Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, and Jason Greenawalt of the Nakapuna Foundation.

Restoring and protecting wildlife

Also approved in Thursday’s markup was the Recovering America's Wildlife Act of 2019 sponsored by Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan that would provide the Northern Marianas an additional $4 million to help conserve, restore, and protect fish and wildlife. The Marianas and other insular areas currently get about $1.3 million annually each under Pittman-Robinson wildlife restoration and hunter education and safety programs. H.R. 3742, which I cosponsored, would dedicate $1.3 billion in mandatory funding to the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program. After state and territory minimums are apportioned, the remaining funds are distributed based on area, population, and the relative number of endangered or threatened species in the state or territory. With 21 endangered or threatened species in the Northern Marianas, roughly $4 million in new funding would go towards conserving our wildlife and habitat. The bill now heads to the Floor for a vote by the full House.

NMI will be eligible for VA grant

The House Veterans Affairs Committee advanced a bill Thursday establishing a grant program to support organizations that provide coordination and delivery of services to veterans at risk for suicide and their families. I offered an amendment that ensures entities in the Marianas and the other insular areas would be eligible for the grant and included in the VA’s program outreach. Supporting organizations in our community that help at-risk veterans is especially important for the Marianas because direct, in-person, VA mental health services are very limited, especially so as demand increases. Marianas veterans want and deserve their own Vet Center and I will continue to push to make that a reality. My amendment passed unanimously by voice vote. You can listen to my full statement here.

New GI Bill housing rates now in effect

Changes to the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) rates made in the Forever GI Bill took effect on December 1, 2019. Previously, if you went to a school with multiple campuses, your MHA was based on the ZIP code of the main campus. MHA rates are now based where the GI Bill student physically attends most classes. The MHA for GI Bill students is also now equivalent to the Basic Allowance for Housing rate the military pays for an E-5 with dependents. The changes were supposed to go into effect August 1, 2018, but technical problems led to the delay. Starting next spring, the VA will start sending out retroactive payments to students who received lower housing payments since August 2018 than they should have under the new law. Students who received higher stipends will have their overpayments waived. All students will be notified whether they were overpaid, underpaid, or not impacted. It is estimated that of the roughly 700,000 receiving Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, 21,000 will see their MHA payments decrease while 59,000 will receive more. Students can check their MHA rate using the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

OPPORTUNITIES

Scholarships/Fellowships

·     President Harry S. Truman Scholarship (Due 2/24/20)

·     Senator Barry Goldwater Scholarship (Due 1/31/20) 

·     President James Madison Fellowship (Due 3/1/20)

Grants

·     Marine debris disaster grants

·     LWCF State and Local Assistance

·     Agriculture Education Challenge Grants

Public Comments

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

·     H.R. 2534 - Insider Trading Prohibition Act (passed, 410-13)

NEXT WEEK

·     S. 737 - Building Blocks of STEM Act

·     H.R. 4761 - DHS Opioid Detection Resilience Act of 2019

·     H.R. 4727 - Department of Homeland Security Mentor-Protégé Program Act of 2019

  • H.R. 4713 - Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Authorization Act