THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - February 15, 2019

Feb 19, 2019

In this issue:

Another shutdown averted

Next: Disaster funding

Examining education funding

Immigration hearing invites sent

Territory parity in lands package

NMI Democrats in Washington

Disaster survivors tax relief

SBA closing Tinian outreach center

Honoring Rep. Dingell

Opportunities

Legislative Highlights

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Another shutdown averted

Congress passed a final FY19 appropriations package late Thursday night avoiding another government shutdown, although President Trump pledged to use emergency powers to pay for his southern border wall. The law funds the government agencies that had been shuttered during the 35-day shutdown until the remainder of the fiscal year - September 30, 2019. Highlights of the spending package:

  • Rejects the Trump administration cuts to the environment by including $8.8 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, $2.7 billion more than the proposed cut, and $435 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would have been eliminated;
  • Continues the 1.5 percent set aside for the Clean Water Revolving Fund and Safe Drinking Water Revolving Fund that I secured in 2010 and has provided $73 million in funding to the Marianas. Programs are funded at $300 million more than the Trump budget request;
  • Provides $20 million more for the Office of Insular Affairs than the President requested, including an additional $2.8 million for Technical Assistance, $300,000 for the Coral Reef Initiative and supports civic education programming such as Close Up;
  • $310 million for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, which the Trump administration sought to eliminate;
  • 1.9 percent pay raise for federal civilian workers;
  • $3.4 billion for Community Development Block Grants, which the Trump administration sought to eliminate;

Increase of $1 billion for the Census to ensure a fair and accurate count.

Next: Disaster funding

Now that Congress has completed funding all federal agencies for the current fiscal year, appropriators will turn their attention to help for areas hit by natural disasters in 2018, including the Marianas. I added two amendments when the House passed its bill, H.R. 268, in January. One increased the earmark for Marianas food stamps to $25.2 million. The other increased funding for the Marianas Medicaid program to $36 million. The Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee has only agreed to the extra food stamp funding. So, work needs to be done. There is agreement on $56 million for solid waste facilities in the Marianas and another earmark of $10.4 million for our water and sewer systems. And $2 million is provided to assist the Commonwealth with the financial management challenges posed by all of the disaster assistance money pouring in. In addition to the $130 million in Marianas-specific money I got in the House bill, the Commonwealth will be eligible for significant grant funding for infrastructure and economic recovery through:

  • The Economic Development Administration ($600 million)
  • The Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief ($1.1 billion)
  • Education Recovery grants ($165 million)
  • Social Services Block grants ($250 million)
  • Community Health Centers ($45 million)
  • Head Start ($80 million)
  • The Army Corps of Engineers ($775 million)

All will require sound proposals from the Commonwealth government.

Examining education funding

At an Education and Labor Committee hearing this week, we examined the underfunding of our nation’s public schools. I highlighted the FEMA-built tent classrooms Hopwood students are learning in due to Super Typhoon Yutu. Dr. Sharon Contreras, Superintendent of Guilford County Schools in North Carolina, shared her experience working to address crumbling school infrastructure. In response to my question on the key elements in designing a school in the Marianas, Dr. Contreras emphasized the importance of building schools strong enough for future natural disasters. I asked the witnesses for their perspective on the impact of the Trump administration's budget cuts to students with disabilities, as well as their teachers, and parents. All students, including those with disabilities, deserve a quality education and the resources to provide the support they need. As Chairman of the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee, I look forward to continuing this important national conversation. View our interaction here.

Immigration hearing invites sent

Invitations have been sent to testify at the hearing I am holding on February 27 to look at recent Trump administration immigration decisions that hurt the Marianas community and workforce. The hearing will focus on H.R. 560, legislation I introduced that allows permanent status in the Marianas for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, caregivers, and other groups who had been granted humanitarian parole by the Obama administration. Shortly after his inauguration, President Trump ordered parole would only be used on a case-by-case basis, not for categories of people. As a result, about 1,500 people will have to leave the Marianas by June 29. My bill provides protection for them, as well as for long-term workers and investors. The hearing will also look at the Trump administration's decision not to allow workers from the Philippines to enter the U.S. on H visas. My Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act, Public Law 115-218, relies on unlimited H visa workers for the Marianas to fill in the gaps as the number of CW permits decreases over the next 10 years. And now, with recovery work underway, the Marianas is especially in need of H visa workers.

Territory parity in lands package

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan sweeping conservation legislation by a 92-8 vote on Tuesday that includes long sought-after funding parity for the Marianas in the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The bill would protect more than 1.3 million acres of wilderness, add more than 367 miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and increase the size of national parks by more than 42,000 acres. The National Resources Management Act would also save taxpayers $9 million, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Closer to home, the 668-page legislation:

  • Permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provides funding parity for the five insular areas and the District of Columbia, which have been limited to a combined share of the funding equal to that of a single state. This is a change that we cosponsors of parity legislation had insisted upon in a letter to congressional leaders last year. If enacted, the change will increase the $75,000 in funding annually allocated to the Marianas about tenfold - to upwards of $800,000! Land and Water Conservation Act funds are used for public parks, playgrounds, sports fields, and beach areas around our islands.
  • Makes permanent and expands the Every Kid in a Park Program which has provided $8,000 in funding for 800 fourth grade students in the Marianas to visit American Memorial Park.

Disaster survivors tax relief

Disaster survivors face many financial hardships and the Natural Disasters Tax Relief Act is aimed to ease those difficulties. I joined the bill’s author, South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice, as an original cosponsor, along with Florida’s Neal Dunn. All of our areas were struck by hurricanes/typhoons in 2018 and Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu are specifically included in the bill as covered events. The bill allows:

  • Temporary withdrawal from an IRA for disaster needs without penalty.
  • Up to a $6,000 credit per employee for businesses that paid wages after a disaster, when employees could not work.
  • An increase in deductible charitable donations to relief efforts.
  • Itemized deductibility for casualty losses in excess of $500.
  • Taxpayers may use 2017 income rather than 2018, if that improves their child tax credit refund.
  • An automatic 60 extra days to file for individuals and businesses in the disaster area.

Any revenue loss to the Commonwealth resulting from these changes in the Internal Revenue Code would be covered over to the Commonwealth Treasury.

SBA closing Tinian outreach center

The Tinian Disaster Loan Outreach Center will close on Wednesday, February 20 at 6 p.m., the U.S. Small Business Administration announced today. SBA opened the center to help business owners and residents who were affected by Typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu on Tinian. Those who still have questions about SBA’s disaster loan program or need help closing their approved disaster loans may visit the outreach center on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 19-20, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Read SBA’s full news release here.

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OPPORTUNITIES

Scholarship:

Grants:

Jobs:

Public Comments:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.J.Res. 31 – Making consolidated appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2019, and for other purposes (Passed, 300-128)
  • H.J. Res. 37 – Directing the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress (Passed, 248-177)
  • H.R. 995 – Settlement Agreement Information Database Act of 2019 (Passed, 418-0)
  • H.R. 1063 – Presidential Library Donation Reform Act of 2019 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1064 – To amend title 5, United States Code, to allow whistleblowers to disclose information to certain recipients (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1065 – Social Media Use in Clearance Investigations Act of 2019 (Passed, 377-3)
  • H.R. 1079 – CASES Act (Passed, 379-0)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R. 141 – Social Security Fairness Act of 2019
  • H.R. 808 – Promoting Access to Diabetic Shoes Act 
  • H.R. 900 – ACO Assignment Improvement Act of 2019 
  • H.R. 1109 – To amend the Public Health Service Act to revise and extend projects relating to children and to provide access to school-based comprehensive mental health programs
  • H.R. 1148 – To provide for disaster tax relief
  • H.R. 1185 – To provide paid family and medical leave benefits to certain individuals, and for other purposes.
  • H.R. 1189 – To repeal section 12616 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, and for other purposes. 
  • H.Res. 124 – Expressing opposition to banning service in the Armed Forces by openly transgender individuals
  • H.Con.Res. 15 – Expressing the commitment of the Congress to the Paris Agreement
  • H.Con.Res. 17 – Expressing the sense of Congress regarding the provision of a basic standard of humanitarian care to all individuals in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.