THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - December 04, 2020

Dec 6, 2020

·     Grace Christian ornaments Marianas tree

·     NMI bills piggyback on Defense Act

·     NDAA funds Tinian divert airfield

·     27,467 unemployment claims unprocessed

·     $2M for Oleai Elementary repairs

·     Committee looks at veterans healthcare

·     Veterans C&P exams resume

·     Speed up veterans record requests

·     Help for building coastal resilience

·     Welcome, intern Anna Gorlick

·     Kilili Time Capsule

·     Opportunities

·     Legislative highlights 

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NMI bills piggyback on Defense Act 

The House and Senate conference committee agreed to include a number of Northern Marianas bills in the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act Thursday. The NDAA, which has passed without fail for 59 straight years, is one of the best opportunities to piggyback legislation, even if not directly defense related. Here are the provisions I secured to benefit the Marianas:

·     NMI Small Business Development Act

Businesses in the Marianas will have more access to federal Small Business Administration programs under terms of my Northern Mariana Islands Small Business Development Act, included in the final version of the NDAA. My bill, H.R. 6021, makes the Marianas eligible for funding to establish a Small Business Development Center Lead Center. It will, also, provide technical assistance to Marianas small businesses interested in seed funding from the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

·     NMI STEM, Career Education

The NDAA also includes two bills I authored to expand education opportunities in our islands. H.R. 6786 includes the Marianas in the Defense Department’s STARBASE education program, which aims to improve students’ skills in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). STARBASE partners military installations with schools having high proportions of economically and educationally disadvantaged students. And H.R. 7112, the Military Spouse Career Education Act, will help wives and husbands of service members finish their college degrees more quickly and get the training needed to re-license in their professions, when they must move to a new location under military orders.

·     Saving children’s lives

Also piggybacking on the NDAA is my bill, H.R. 4614, adding the Marianas and other insular areas to the national AMBER alert system for finding missing children. AMBER alerts mobilize the community via radio, TV, and text messages and have helped locate almost one thousand children, since the system was created in 1996. My AMBER Alerts Nationwide Act will give law enforcement in the Marianas the financial and technical resources from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Transportation to implement AMBER alerts in our community, hopefully saving lives. My bill also seeks to close gaps in coverage nationwide by specifying airports, seaports, and border crossing areas.

NDAA funds Tinian divert airfield

The conference-agreed FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act now authorizes $61 million for two Air Force divert field projects on Tinian: $39.5 million for the second increment of Airfield Development Phase 1, and $21.5 million for the second increment of the parking apron. The money is part of a total authorization of $732 billion to maintain military readiness, enhance capabilities, improve personnel initiatives, and prioritize technological security. Additional highlights include:

·     A 3% pay increase for service members,

·     Funds to increase our ability to prepare for and respond to future pandemics,

·     Increases in certain hazardous duty incentive pay,

·     Improvements to military family housing quality,

·     Improved childcare services,

·     Enhanced military justice and sexual assault prevention and response initiatives,

·     Suicide prevention and resilience program for reserve components,

·     Continued efforts to address contamination associated with per- and polyfluorinated compounds in military communities, and

·     Funding to support research for climate crisis response.

The House is expected to vote on final passage of the NDAA next week.

$2M for Oleai Elementary repairs

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced a $2,040,109.20 award for repair of Oleai Elementary School buildings damaged by Super Typhoon Yutu last week. The funding will allow for restoration to pre-disaster design, function, and capacity. This Public Assistance Grant award funds 90 percent of the $2,266,788 cost of the project and brings the total federal assistance to the Public School System for Yutu recovery to $45,654,831.91. Overall, the Commonwealth has received $230,594,223.86 in FEMA grants for typhoon recovery. 

Veterans C&P exams resume

The Department of Veterans Affairs is resuming Compensation and Pension exams in the Marianas. The C&P exam is necessary to establish there is a service connection to any veteran disability claim. But the program has been shut down nationwide since the pandemic struck in March. Health and safety precautions, such as wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, will still be required during exams. To learn more about C&P exams, click here.

Speed up veterans record requests

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a months-long backlog of unprocessed record requests from veterans, which I and 232 other Members of Congress have asked the National Archives to address. Our bipartisan letter last week to Scott Levins, Director of the Archives’ National Personnel Records Center, asks that he quicken the pace of processing and gives us a workplan of how he will deal with the backlog.

Help for building coastal resilience

A coastal resilience assessment for the Northern Mariana Islands, developed to help identify areas with the greatest potential to improve wildlife habitat and community resilience to flooding threats, was issued Monday by NOAA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This assessment uses data on human community assets, flood hazards, stressors, and fish and wildlife resources to produce analyses standardized for all U.S. coastlines. The information identifies the coastal community assets most exposed to coastal hazards, as well as the sites where conservation and restoration projects will reduce flooding and benefit fish and wildlife habitat. The assessment can be a useful tool to complement ongoing coastal resilience planning efforts, and can be used by community planners, conservation organizations, and others to help make informed decisions about the potential for restoration, conservation, or other resilience-related projects to achieve dual benefits for people and wildlife. The data and modeling used to create the assessment is available on the project’s online interface, the Coastal Resilience Evaluation and Siting Tool.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants

·     A note to those receiving or applying for federal grants during the coronavirus crisis: The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) may extend for up to 12 months certain grants set to expire between March 31 and December 31, 2020. OMB is also providing some deadline flexibility for grant applications. Check out these links for OMB’s March 9 and March 17 memo on these extensions.

Public Comments

·     Intercountry adoption rule changes

·     Coral critical habitats

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

·     H.R. 3884 - Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (passed 225-160)

 

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.