THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - April 27, 2018

Apr 30, 2018

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Senate passes US Workforce Act

The Senate passed the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act on Monday by unanimous consent. The Act increases the number of Commonwealth-only Transitional Workers to 13,000 for fiscal year 2019, then gradually winds down the foreign worker program over a 10-year period. The Act contains significant new protections for U.S. workers from unfair competition from cheap foreign labor. And it protects local Marianas businesses with legacy CW employees from competition for permits from outside businesses. I am grateful to Chairman Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (Washington), of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, for their partnership in getting us to this point. In 2017 we began working on the question of what to do after the scheduled end of the transition period in 2019. Gradually, behind the scenes we built a working group of offices, representing House and Senate and Republicans and Democrats, to find consensus on a solution. Chairman Murkowski and I introduced the resulting legislation on January 19. Our strategy, based on long experience, was first to get the bill through the Senate, which can be more difficult, and then work in the House. And, because of the buy-in developed over the last year and a half, we have been able to move the bill quickly. What now remains is passage by the House and signature into law by the President.

Food stamps:  USDA "still concerned"

Even with the recent increase in food stamp eligibility and benefits, the Commonwealth will still leave more than $10 million unspent over the next three years, according to a report this week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I asked for the updated spending projection, after the Commonwealth lifted eligibility standards and benefit amounts earlier this month. In March, USDA told me the Commonwealth was sitting on $22.5 million in unused food stamp funds; and I urged that more families be made eligible and monthly benefits raised. Commonwealth officials quickly announced they would make the changes. But, “based on projections of CNMI,” USDA told me, the surplus would still be “approximately $10,135,655 over the next three years.” And, the report added, “We did inform CNMI leadership that [the Department] is still concerned.” I, too, am concerned. I put $32.5 million for the Marianas into the 2014 Agricultural Act, so our families would have more to eat. And I will keep insisting that money gets spent to help the hungry.

HUD proposes rent increases

The Trump administration wants to triple the rent for families in Section 8 and other federally assisted housing. The change would affect renters in the Marianas and nationwide. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson released the proposal, called the Making Affordable Housing Work Act of 2018, on Wednesday. Most participants currently contribute 30 percent of their adjusted income to their rent. The Trump plan raises the rent to 35 percent of gross income or 35 percent of the amount earned for working 15 hours for federal minimum wage, whichever is more. About 15 percent of renters pay a $50 minimum; that will be raised to $150. According to Carson, the plan promotes self-sufficiency. I see it as just another burden on families already struggling to make ends meet. Thankfully, Congress would have to approve any changes to the rental structure; and I and many of my colleagues will oppose these changes.

VA launches welcome kit

Here is another helpful tool connecting veterans to the services of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has developed a Welcome Kit that provides a summary of VA programs, step-by-step instructions for enrollment, and contact information for VA program offices. Spouses and dependents can also find helpful information about benefits and services. To obtain a copy of the kit, go to https://www.vets.gov/welcome-to-va/

Comments sought on Divert SEIS

The U.S. Air Force intends to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for its proposed Tinian Divert Infrastructure Improvements. The decision to site the divert field and support facilities on the north side of the Tinian airport was made in December 2016 with my support and the approval of Tinian leadership and Governor Torres. Instead of using trucks to transport fuel from Tinian’s seaport to the airport for Divert activities as originally planned, the Air Force now proposes to construct an underground pipeline for fuel transfer plus the associated infrastructure at the seaport. The Air Force would also like to improve certain Tinian roads between the seaport and airport to better support heavy vehicle traffic required for Divert projects. The Air Force will prepare an SEIS to assess the potential environmental consequences of the proposal and is inviting the public to attend a scoping meeting to learn more and to provide comment. The meeting will take place at the Tinian Elementary School cafeteria on Thursday, May 17, from 5-8 pm. Information on the SEIS and the opportunity to submit comments are also available at http://www.pacafdivertmarianaseis.com/. Deadline for public comment is May 31, 2018.

Funding parity for insular parks

Pressing the case for a ten-fold increase in funding for Marianas public parks, playgrounds, sports fields, and beach areas, the original cosponsors of the LWCF Parity for Territories and DC Act want our bill added to any reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Act. Right now the five insular areas and the District of Columbia split a one-state share of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Our bill, H.R. 4179, would give each of us a state share. That change would increase Marianas funding from $75,000 per year to over $800,000. It is a good investment. Every $1 for improvements to parks and other recreation areas generates a $4 economic return. See our letter here.

$5.6 million in OIA grants for CNMI

Congress appropriates funds to the Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs each year to address unique needs in each of the insular areas. This week $5,649,042 was awarded from the Capital Infrastructure Program, Compact Impact Funds, and the Technical Assistance Program for a variety of purposes requested by the Commonwealth:

Capital Infrastructure Program – $3,124,000

  •  Department of Public Works – $1,693,826 to construct landfills and transfer stations on Tinian ($846,913) and Rota ($846,913)
  • CNMI 702 CIP Program Administration Office – $328,624 to manage implementation of CIP projects
  • Commonwealth Utilities Corporation – $101,550 for the maintenance of infrastructure projects
  • Insular ABC’s Initiative – $1,000,000 for continued critical deferred maintenance of public school buildings

Compact Impact Funds – $2,309,362

  • Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation – $894,546
  • Division of Youth Services – 10,931
  • Department of Public Safety – $262,049
  • Department of Corrections – $416,151
  • Public Defenders Office – $39,216
  • Northern Marianas College – $41,355
  • Public School System – $204,905
  • Karidat Social Services – $50,667
  • Judiciary – $113,072
  • Department of Fire and Emergency Services – $276,470

Technical Assistance Program – $215,680

  • Commonwealth Ports Authority – $215,680 for additional automated passport control units for Saipan airport

Protecting food and worker safety

Privatizing food safety inspections in hog slaughter plants, reducing the number of inspectors, and increasing slaughter line speeds will endanger public health and worker safety. That is why I joined 62 of my House colleagues in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue opposing the Department’s proposed Swine Slaughter Inspection Rule. There is no evidence that line speeds can be increased in a way that ensures safe food. And eliminating inspectors means it will be less safe to eat pork products. The proposed rule increases corporate profits at the risk of our food supply and worker safety; it should be withdrawn.

OPPORTUNITIES 

Grants:

Jobs:

Public Comments:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS 

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 4 – FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Passed, 217-176)
  • H.R. 5447 – Music Modernization Act (Passed, 415-0)
  • S. 447 – Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 4744 – Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act (Passed, 410-2)
  • Motion to Table H.Res. 856 (Failed, 215-171)
  • H.R. 4681 – No Assistance for Assad Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.Con.Res. 111 – Recognizing and supporting the efforts of the United Bid Committee to bring the 2026 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup competition to Canada, Mexico, and the United States (Passed, 392-3)
  • H.R. 5086 – Innovators to Entrepreneurs Act of 2018 (Passed, 379-16)
  • H.R. 2809 – American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R. 959 – Title VIII Nursing Workforce Reauthorization Act of 2017

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.