Kilili: House sends disaster bill to President for signature

Jun 3, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC – The House passed legislation today to help communities, including the Marianas, struck by typhoons, earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters in 2018 and 2019. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan was able to include special set-asides for the Marianas worth $129.6 million in the bill. Beginning work within days of Super Typhoon Yutu, Congressman Sablan also ensured the Marianas is eligible for tens of millions more in recovery grants for schools, Head Start, Legal Services, highways, and other federal programs. At least another $50 million is expected specifically from the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery, which will be added to over $100 million in CDBG-DR already allocated to the Marianas from previous legislation. The disaster supplemental appropriation now goes to the White House. The President has said he will sign the bill.

     “This is the culmination of months of work making sure the Marianas has all the resources we need to build back better than ever,” Congressman Kilili said.

     “My very first votes in this Congress were for my two amendments to the disaster aid bill, making $36 million available for the Marianas Medicaid program and $25.2 million available for food aid.

     “And behind the scenes negotiations produced another $56 million for solid waste facilities and $10.4 million for sewer and water infrastructure. Together with $2 million to help the Commonwealth with managing all this money, that is a total of $129.6 million – just for the Marianas.”

     Sablan said there should also be at least another $50 million specifically for the Marianas to come through a Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery. “CDBG-DR goes to areas hit by a major disaster for recovery expenses not covered by FEMA or SBA or other first responders,” Sablan said. “The Marianas has already been allocated more than $100 million from legislation we passed last year, but that only covers about 68 percent of the total unmet needs. So, I expect another $50 million in CDBG-DR, money that can be used to harden infrastructure and market tourism.”

     Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu are used throughout the disaster aid bill to reference where funding will go. Sablan sent a comprehensive request for inclusion to the former Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Pennsylvania), last November, cataloguing all the programs the Marianas should be made eligible for. Frelinghuysen honored many of Sablan’s requests in a December bill that passed the House.

     When Democrats took the majority in January, Sablan worked closely with the new Chair, Nita Lowey (D-New York), and her staff and used his standing as a member of the Democratic Caucus to add more money.

     “Some of the grant programs, such as CDBG-DR, will be allocated to the Marianas using a formula or information from other federal agencies,” Sablan explained. “Others are more open-ended. But even the CDBG-DR money will require solid plans of expenditure from the Commonwealth government.”

     In fact, because the Commonwealth has never before received CDBG-DR funds and because of the amount of money being made available, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is in charge, has said it will be sending a team to explain the requirements to Commonwealth officials this month. In particular, financial management and procurement processes must meet strict HUD standards or funds will not be released.

     After months of inaction the Republican controlled Senate passed the disaster aid bill on May 23, after the House had recessed for Memorial Day. Three attempts to pass the bill by unanimous consent since then failed when House Republicans objected. Today’s vote for passage was 354 to 58 with all the nay votes coming from Republicans.