THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - February 1, 2019

Feb 4, 2019

In this issue:

To chair education subcommittee

HeadStart team visits

Dems plan $100B to rebuild schools

Federal workers pay raise

Dems unveil border plan

Insular issues gain prominence

Serving Marianas’ veterans

VA benefits counselor to visit

Where are the regs?

Welcoming new ambassador

Share your survivor story

Dems bill boosts Social Security

Replace your mission SSA-1099

Know what your Medicare covers

Getting to know new colleagues

Combating human trafficking

Opportunities

Legislative Highlights

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To chair education subcommittee

Democratic members of the Education and Labor Committee have elected me to chair the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee in the 116th Congress. The chairmanship became official on Tuesday when the full committee—Democrats and Republicans—met for the first time. As chairman, I am responsible for all national policy dealing with education from infancy through the high school level, as well as career and technical education. This includes the Head Start program, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, special education, and homeless and migrant education. I was also selected to serve on the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment. From my first days in office, education has been my primary policy concern. Education unlocks the door to prosperity and a successful life for each individual. And a community of educated individuals will likewise prosper. I am very grateful to be selected to help make the opportunity to learn available to the people I represent in the Northern Mariana Islands and Americans everywhere.

Dems plan $100B to rebuild schools

Democrats introduced the Rebuild America’s Schools Act on Wednesday with $100 billion for schools in high-poverty areas of our nation. Schools in the Marianas and other U.S. insular areas are particularly in need of repair and rebuilding. Even before typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu struck the Marianas and Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the U.S. Virgin Islands, an Army Corps of Engineers study put the cost of deferred maintenance at island schools at $177 million. The Rebuild America’s Schools Act sets aside $350 million for island schools. The last big investment by the federal government in Marianas public schools was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, when the Democrats were last in the majority. $44.4 million went to modernize classrooms, strengthen technology infrastructure, and pay teachers in 2009. Ten years later, it is time for more investment in our schools. The Rebuild America’s Schools Act, H.R. 865, will be one of the first bills the Education and Labor Committee marks up in this Congress. 

Federal workers’ pay raise

After many federal workers endured a 35-day shutdown without pay, the House voted Wednesday to raise federal wages by 2.6 percent. I am a cosponsor of the Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Raise Fairness Act of 2019 and chaired the House for much of the debate on the bill. Members of the military are already receiving the raise for 2019. But President Trump put a freeze on pay hikes for civilian federal workers. He also cancelled the annual increase in locality pay for workers who live in more expensive areas of the country, calling the increases “inappropriate.” TSA inspectors and CBP agents who dutifully went to work without pay, and all the federal employees stuck at home throughout the long shutdown deserve better treatment than they are getting from the President. The Senate must now act on the Pay Raise Fairness Act.

Dems unveil border plan

Now that President Trump has agreed to reopen the government and start paying federal workers, Congress has until February 15 to pass legislation funding the rest of fiscal year 2019 and to address the President’s concerns about border security. On Wednesday, House Democrat conferees released their border security proposal including:

  • 1,000 new Customs officers
  • new imaging technology to scan all vehicles entering the country for drugs and other contraband
  • new equipment to stop fentanyl and other opioids shipped by mail
  • new cutting edge technology along the border to improve situational awareness
  • expansion of Customs and Border Patrol's air and marine operations along the border
  • expansion of risk-based targeting of passengers and cargo entering the US

The Democratic proposal addresses the humanitarian crisis at the border by improving CBP’s capacity to take care of migrants in custody. Democrats also want to hire more Homeland Security Investigations agents to focus on drug smuggling, gang crimes, financial crimes, and other high priority law enforcement.

Insular issues gain prominence

The House Natural Resources Committee has named me Vice Chair for Insular Affairs. The new position was approved at the Democratic organizational meeting Tuesday. Insular issues, previously delegated to a subcommittee, will now be managed by the full Committee and I will serve as Chair. I thank Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) for recognizing insular issues need this special prominence. I have used my new position to quickly schedule a hearing on recent Trump administration immigration decisions that harm the Marianas. These include ending humanitarian parole for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and other long-time Marianas residents and taking the Philippines off the list of countries eligible to provide temporary H visa workers. The hearing will be on February 27. I am also serving on the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. WOW has jurisdiction over the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act I recently introduced.

Serving Marianas’ veterans
 
My goals remain to find ways to improve services across-the-board to Marianas veterans. That means a Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, a Vets Center, a psychologist stationed here on island, Veterans Benefits staff in the Marianas, and faster reimbursement rates for medical travel. To that end, I sought and was granted a waiver from the usual two-committee limit to sit on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Democratic members of the committee met earlier this week to elect leaders and select subcommittees. I chose to serve on the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs because it will allow me to pursue my goals. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over areas within the Veterans Benefits Administration such as compensation and cost of living adjustments, pensions, life insurance, dependent and survivor benefits, minority veterans, service-connected disabilities, medical exams, and appeals of VA claims decisions.
 
 
Where are the regs?
 
The Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act, U.S. Public Law 115-218, directed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Labor to issue implementing regulations within 180 days of the bill becoming law. That deadline, January 20, 2019, has passed and neither agency has issued its respective rules. Unfortunately, there is no penalty for missing the deadline. In light of the delay, I asked the agency to issue formal guidance to employers on how to prepare for the fiscal year 2020 application period, which opens in April. Until new regulations are published, the current procedures for submitting CW applications remain in effect. 
 
 
Share your survivor story
 
As Congress examines the federal response to recent disasters in the Marianas, and across the nation, and how recovery efforts can be improved in the future, I ask everyone who experienced Super Typhoon Yutu and Typhoon Mangkhut to share your survival stories. Your first-hand accounts will help paint a more complete, and human, picture of the devastation we survived and the help we received – or did not receive – in the aftermath of these storms. Your stories will help identify how to improve the federal response to future disasters and, perhaps, even save lives. Written personal stories in any length may be submitted, along with photographs or videos, to typhoonstories@mail.house.gov. Survivors need not disclose their names, and confidentiality will be maintained for all submissions. For more information, contact Mr. Randy Johnson at the congressional office at 670.323.2647, or email typhoonstories@mail.house.gov.
 
 
 
 
Dem bill boosts Social Security
Around 3,000 people in the Marianas count on Social Security; and we all benefit from the $25 million Social Security adds to our economy. This week, along with 202 other Democrats in the House, I introduced the Social Security 2100 Act to improve Social Security by making the annual cost of living adjustment, or COLA, take account of prescription drugs and other expenses that retirees face. The bill also increases benefits for current and new beneficiaries and sets a new minimum benefit at 25 percent above the poverty line, so no one retires into poverty. Twelve million Social Security recipients who pay taxes on the money would get a tax break. And everything would be paid for by making those with earnings above $400,000 pay into the system. Currently, payroll taxes aren’t collected on wages over $132,900. Americans everywhere pay into Social Security over a lifetime of work to fund their retirement, help if they become disabled, and provide for their survivors.
 
Replace your missing SSA-1099
A misplaced SSA-1099 — your Social Security Benefit statement — can stop your annual income tax filing in its tracks. Fortunately, it is easy to replace that 1099 with its record of how much you received from Social Security for the year. Get a copy you can print or save electronically with a mySocialSecurity account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount/.
 
Know what your Medicare covers
“What’s Covered” is a new mobile application that lets patients and doctors easily see what health care items and services are covered by Medicare. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services launched the new app on Monday. In the doctor’s office, the hospital, or anywhere services are being recommended, you can quickly find out whether Medicare insurance will cover the costs. You will also see the preventive services that Medicare covers, like diabetes prevention, cancer screenings, and other free services that too few Medicare beneficiaries in the Marianas know about or use. The What’s Covered app is available for free in both Google Play and the Apple App Store.


 
 
Combating human trafficking
The State Department 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report identified more than 40 countries with human trafficking associated with the seafood industry. This week I received a response from the Department of Homeland Security to a joint letter I sent with eight of my colleagues detailing our concerns regarding labor and human rights abuses in the seafood supply chain. DHS says they have implemented several programs to share information, aid investigations and law enforcement, and engage the private sector to educate and facilitate compliance. A U.S. delegation traveled to Thailand last year to examine the seafood industry and the Customs and Border Patrol will be scheduling a briefing for me and my colleagues on the matter. 
 
 
OPPORTUNITIES
Grants:

Public Comments:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 790 – Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Raise Fairness Act of 2019 (Passed, 259-161)
  • H.Res. 79 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Government shutdowns are detrimental to the Nation and should not occur, as amended (Failed, 249-163)
  • H.Res. 77 – Expressing the sense of Congress that financial institutions and other companies should work proactively with their customers affected by the shutdown of the Federal Government who may be facing short-term financial hardship and long-term damage to their creditworthiness through no fault of their own (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 424 – Department of Homeland Security Clearance Management and Administration Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 495 – FIRST State and Local Law Enforcement Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 428 – Homeland Security Assessment of Terrorists’ Use of Virtual Currencies Act (Passed, 422-3)
  • H.R. 449 – Pathways to Improving Homeland Security at the Local Level Act (Passed, 412-12)
  • H.R. 504 – DHS Field Engagement Accountability Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 769 – Counterterrorism Advisory Board Act of 2019 (Passed, 414-2)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R.7 – To amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, and for other purposes
  • H.R.8 – Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019

·     H.R.732 – To amend title 13, United States Code, to require the Secretary of Commerce to provide advance notice to Congress before changing any questions on the decennial census, and for other purposes

  • H.R.790 – Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Raise Fairness Act of 2019
  • H.R.860 – To protect our Social Security system and improve benefits for current and future generations
  • H.R.865 – To provide for the long-term improvement of public school facilities, and for other purposes
  • H.Res.38 – Supporting the goals and ideals of Korean American Day.

NEXT WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 840 – Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act
  • H.R. 876 – Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2019
  • H.R. 866 – Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019
  • H.R. 831 – Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019
  • H.R. 66 – Route 66 Centennial Commission Act
  • H.R. 450 – Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act of 2019
  • H.R. 494 – Tiffany Joslyn Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2019
  • H.R. 507 – Putting Trafficking Victims First Act of 2019
  • H.R. 752 – Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act

Committee Activity

Wednesday, February 6

  • Committee on Education and Labor Hearing on “Examining Threats to Workers with Preexisting Conditions”
  • Committee on Natural Resources Hearing on “Climate Change: The Impacts and the Need to Act”

Thursday, February 7

  • Committee on Education and Labor Hearing on “Gradually Raising the Minimum Wage to $15: Good for Workers, Good for Businesses, and Good for the Economy”
  • Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Hearing on “Healthy Oceans and Healthy Economies: The State of Our Oceans in the 21st Century”