THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - December 30, 2015

Jan 5, 2016

In this issue:

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Working together with the new Torres administration.

Our new Governor, Ralph DLG Torres, led the response and recovery to Typhoon Soudelor; and the congressional office assisted by making sure that every federal resource he called for was provided fully and quickly. In a meeting with Governor Torres this week I pledged to continue that model of cooperation and partnership with his new administration for the benefit of the people of the Northern Mariana Islands. I thanked the Governor, too, for leading us all through these days of grief with grace and courage.

2015 - The Year in Review.

2015 will be remembered in part as the year of Typhoon Soudelor. Complete recovery is still to be accomplished, but federal assistance helped local hands respond to the immediate emergency and will continue to aid in restoration of homes and public infrastructure. 2015 was also a year of significant accomplishment in Washington.

January

16% NAP benefit increase for Saipan takes effect - Food stamp beneficiaries on Saipan received a 16 percent increase in their benefits. The Saipan increase followed a 28 percent increase for Tinian and 62 percent for Rota and the Northern Islands that took effect in 2014.

Seniority pays off in Committee assignment - Six years of seniority allowed the Northern Marianas Delegate to win promotion to Vice-Ranking Member for the Natural Resources Committee.
 

February

H.R. 851 aims to increase federal funding for PSS - As it became apparent that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would finally be reauthorized, I introduced legislation to increase federal education funding for our Public School System — a move that paid off in December.
 

March

President’s budget includes funding for Rota National Park study - The study was only authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2014, but the President immediately proposed funding.
 

April

Community Health Centers, CHIP benefit from “doc fix” - The Kagman Community Health Center was assured of funding through 2017 in Public Law 114-10. The law also extended the CHIP program, which will provide $1.4 million for health insurance for children from low-income families in the Northern Marianas in 2016.
 

June

Geothermal explorations get green light - CUC got the go-ahead to use technical assistance funds provided by Congress to continue exploring geothermal potential on Saipan. Hot water deep below the surface could generate electricity and lower the cost of power.
 

July

Foxx-Messer-Sablan Act would help students select college - Along with Education and the Workforce Committee members Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Luke Messer (R-IN), I introduced H.R. 3178 to help students and their families get the facts they need to make decisions about college. The Sablan.house.gov website also added resources for college-bound students.
 

August

President signs disaster declaration, releasing federal aid - We worked with the White House to get a declaration within 30 hours of the request from the CNMI and federal aid quickly followed:

  • Home repair: $24.6 million in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency reached 4,821 households.
  • Commonwealth Health Center: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped CUC quickly restore power to the hospital.
  • Debris removal: U.S. Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit cleared debris from schools and roadways, making it easier to replace power poles.
  • Water: Marines also set up a reverse osmosis purification system and gave out drinking water in villages around Saipan.
  • Replacement food: The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved emergency food stamps helping over 12,000 households.
  • Business recovery: The U.S. Small Business Administration loaned out $23 million to get business and individuals back on their feet.
  • Postal services: The U.S. Post Office in Saipan resumed operations using generator power.
  • Immigration services: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services center on Saipan maintained regular hours. Customs and Border Patrol and the Transportation Security Administration kept their airport operations up and running.
  • Environmental protection: Along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard contained a dangerous spill of gasoline and helped remove damaged boats blocking the Saipan harbor. EPA also provided hazardous waste disposal around the island.

Establishing NMI National Guard found feasible - The report I included in the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act was issued and found that it would be feasible to have a Northern Marianas National Guard unit. Soudelor underscored the need for the Governor to have this additional resource in times of emergency. I followed up with introduction of H.R. 3649, creating an NMI Guard.
 

September

His Holiness Pope Francis addressed a joint meeting of Congress - To maintain a proper decorum as the Pope entered, sixteen Members, including the representative of the people of the Northern Mariana Islands, were selected to line the corridor.
 

October

Saipan Troop Store project bids close - Contractors submitted proposals for the 5,000-square-foot expansion of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service Troop Store located at the Army Reserve Center on Saipan. Bidding had been delayed to check for unexploded ordnance. The store serves about 4,000 active and reserve service members, retirees, and their families and needs a major overhaul.

First year of stretched-out CW program - Last year, I was able to get the foreign worker program extended through 2019, instead of ending in 2014. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services set the cap on workers at 12,999 for 2016, but with four years now remaining the need to convert to U.S. workers remains pressing, if growth is to continue in our islands.
 

November

College and Career workshops begin for NMI students - As part of the effort to beef up the local workforce, the congressional office began workshops for Northern Marianas high school students. We offered information on how to decide on college, in-demand jobs and options for vocational training, and opportunities for service in the military, AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps.

Three academy slots added for NMI students - President Obama signed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act into law, adding three new slots for Northern Mariana Islands students at the U.S. service academies. Now, we have gone from three slots, when I came into office in 2009, to nine positions set aside for NMI young people.
 

December

Highway funds for NMI increased - Transit and safety programs worth $1.2 million annually to the Northern Marianas and an additional $8 million in highway construction funds for the NMI, Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands are included in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, Public Law 114-94.

New education law means millions for NMI schools - Millions of dollars in new funding for Northern Mariana Islands schools will result from the Every Student Succeeds Act, Public Law 114-95. The new law contains proposals from my bill, H.R. 851, to raise Title I-A grant funds going to U.S. insular areas. The Congressional Research Service projects Northern Marianas funding will go up from the current $6.8 million to $11.1 million each year, beginning next October.

Soudelor commendations added to the Congressional Record - In a statement before Congress, I recognized and expressed appreciation to all who made possible the recovery from Typhoon Soudelor. The hard work of the local government, charitable organizations, businesses, and many friends near and far deserves this lasting recognition.

Consolidated appropriations act aids the NMI - The fiscal 2016 funding and tax extension law, P.L. 114-113 contains numerous benefits for people and programs in the Northern Marianas:

  • Rota and Tinian harbor projects get $600,000: The law includes my request to fund the Rota and Tinian harbor improvements. This is the first year of direct funding for the two projects, which will eventually cost about $3 million each.
  • Rota National Park study funded: The study was only authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2014, but funding is now available.
  • $6 million for Clean Water/Safe Drinking Water: The improved formula for the NMI and other insular areas continues, bringing total funding over the last 7 years to approximately $51.6 million.
  • Pell Grants increased. The maximum grant will be $5,915, an increase of $140 in the 2016-2017 school year for NMC students.
  • Teacher tax credit made permanent: Teachers may continue to deduct up to $250 in out-of-pocket costs.
  • American Opportunities Tax Credit made permanent: Families get a credit of up to $2,500 per college student per school year. Funds are covered over to the CNMI Treasury.
  • Child Tax Credit made permanent: The credit is based on the number of children in a family. Funds are covered over to the CNMI Treasury.
USCIS assures action on pending CW petitions.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has responded to my calls for action on delayed renewals of Commonwealth-only worker permits by moving CW applications submitted over 90 days ago for permits that expire this week to the front of the line for processing – about 800 in all. Extra staff have also been added to clear the backlog of CW applications. USCIS has told me that they expect to act on these 800 CW petitions by the end of this week. Another 2,000 applications that were not submitted before the recommended 90 days will also receive the extra staff attention I called for. I urge employers with applications that are more than 90 days old to contact the congressional office. I also recommend that employers submit applications for renewals as early as possible – they may do so up to 180 days prior to expiration.

FEMA obligates $1.2 million for CUC Soudelor repairs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced this week a grant of $1,194,653.70 to the Northern Mariana Islands. The funds are intended to be passed through to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation for costs of restoring power on Saipan following Typhoon Soudelor. These public assistance funds are authorized under Section 406 of the Robert T. Stafford Act and should continue to be obligated for a variety of public infrastructure that was damaged during the storm. FEMA provides 90 percent of funding; the Commonwealth provides 10 percent, a reduction of the usual 25 percent match.

Opportunities - Federal grants, jobs for and in the Marianas:

Grants:

  • National Arts and Humanities – The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, invites applications for the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards. Current closing date is February 2, 2016. For more information, go to https://www.neh.gov/grants/pcah/national-arts-and-humanities-youth-program-awards.

Jobs:

  • Immigration Services Assistant (Office Automation) – The Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security is accepting applications for an Immigration Services Assistant in Guam. Incumbent will be supporting Immigration Services Officers, providing security checks in accordance with DHS/USCIS laws and policies; researching, collecting, correlating and analyzing data to ensure the integrity of information and preparation of report; providing direct service to customers and their representatives, and managing files, databases and correspondence. Position is open until January 4, 2016. For more information, go tohttps://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/425257600.
  • Biologist – The Geological Survey, Department of the Interior is accepting applications for a Biologist in Guam. Incumbent will conduct fieldwork on brown tree snakes and other reptiles on Pacific Islands; perform quality assurance and control on data and transmitting results to project leaders; organize, coordinate, and lead brown tree snake projects; and conduct workshop, outreach materials and work with government, local authorities, and private citizens. Position is open until January 4, 2016. For more information, go tohttps://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/424910300.
  • IT Specialist (Data Management) – The National Guard Unit, Department of the Army is accepting applications for an IT Specialist in Guam. Incumbent will develop and review the administration, implement policy for use of data, analyze database operations, determine equipment demands, and provide technical advice, among other duties. Position is open until January 25, 2016. For more information, go to https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/423212900.
  • Closed Microphone Reporter – The Air Force Personnel Center, Department of the Air Force is accepting applications for a Closed Microphone Reporter. Incumbent will utilize a closed microphone or similar mechanical equipment, transcribe and assemble records of trail, performs actions necessary to prepare hearings, uses varied and advanced functions of word processing software. Position is open until January 12, 2016. For more information, go tohttps://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/425124300.
Highlights in the Legislative Program

THIS WEEK:

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.

NEXT WEEK:

The House floor schedule for next week has not been released.