THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - February 19, 2021

Feb 22, 2021

In this issue:

·     Vaccine Update

·     Vaccine for Kagman Health Center

·     USDA: $62m expected for NAP

·     $10.3m for NMTI training facility

·     $5.8m for Marianas airports

·     Rescue Plan: $515m for NMI government

·     Renewing old friendships

·     Marianas in US Citizenship Act 

·     CNMI permanent resident update

·     VA extends debt collection pause

·     Returning as Vice Chair

·     Congressional Award info session

·     Kilili Time Capsule

·     Opportunities

·     Legislative highlights

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Vaccine for Kagman Health Center

Kagman Community Health Center is one of 250 Federally Qualified Health Centers nationwide selected to participate in the Ensuring Equity in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution program, the Health Resources and Services Administration announced on Tuesday. After verifying participation and capability, Kagman Community Health Center will be able to receive and administer COVID-19 vaccines. These will be in addition to the doses already being sent to the Marianas each month. That means more of us will be vaccinated more quickly. The doses provided will be separate from vaccines already being allocated to the Marianas each month and should mean more of us will be vaccinated more quickly. Congratulations, Kagman Health Center!

$10.3m for NMTI training facility

The new Biden administration continued to clear the backlog of Marianas disaster recovery aid applications with a $10.3 million award to the Northern Marianas Technical Institute on Thursday. NMTI applied for the money to build a new training facility in September 2019, just a few months after we made the money available in U.S. Public Law 116-20; but the Economic Development Administration took no action, until now. The typhoon-proofed, new building will house classrooms and offices to support the NMTI trades program, which is especially needed as we continue the multi-year task of rebuilding from Super Typhoon Yutu. 410 jobs are forecast to be created as a result of this investment in training. Together with the recently announced grants to Northern Marianas College, EDA is confirming my long-held belief that investing in education is key to our economic future and one of the best ways for us to build back better.

$5.8m for Marianas airports

The Commonwealth Ports Authority will get $5,823,963 from the relief package we passed in December, the Federal Aviation Administration announced this week. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act provided this financial aid to U.S. airports and eligible concessionaires to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FAA is distributing the funds to airports based on the number of annual boardings. The $5,823,963 allocated to CPA is further distributed, as follows: 

·     Francisco C Ada/Saipan International – $3,785,813

·     Tinian International – $1,022,851

·     Benjamin Taisacan Manglona International – $1,006,299

·     Pagan Airstrip – $9,000

Congratulations, CPA!

Rescue Plan: $515m for NMI government

Final allocations for insular areas governments from the American Rescue Plan were released this week by the Committee on Oversight and Reform. The Commonwealth government should receive $483,000,000 to replace operational funds lost because of the pandemic and address other negative economic impacts. And the Rota, Tinian, Saipan, and Northern Islands municipalities will share $32,000,000 for a total of $515,000,000. The funds may be transferred to private nonprofit organizations, public benefit corporations involved in transportation, and special-purpose units of government. Oversight and Reform is just one of many committees, which have submitted their spending plans to the House Budget Committee for compilation this week into the American Rescue Plan. That legislation goes to the House for a vote next week. At the same time, and in coordination with the House and the White House, Senate staff have been working with their Parliamentarian to make sure the compiled text meets the specific requirements that apply to a reconciliation measure in the Senate, and can be passed by a simple majority vote there.

Marianas in U.S. Citizenship Act

Rep. Linda Sanchez and Sen. Robert Menendez introduced yesterday President Biden’s vision for modernizing immigration, the U.S. Citizenship Act, which includes special provisions for the Marianas I helped draft with the Biden transition team last year. The Act incorporates elements of my bill, H.R. 560, that grant permanent status to certain CW workers and foreign investors in the Marianas. The Act, also, makes certain noncitizens, including many in the Marianas, eligible for a new “Law Prospective Immigrant” status. LPI status provides lawful presence and work authorization, is valid for six years, and may be extended for an additional six years. After a minimum of five years in LPI status, an individual may be eligible for U.S. lawful permanent residence. Other provisions address backlogs in the immigrant visa system by recapturing unused visas, and adjusting certain per-country limits and create an exemption from worldwide visa limits for children of certain Filipino veterans. I am an original co-sponsor of the U.S. Citizenship Act.

CNMI permanent resident update

In preparation for my meeting with Secretary Mayorkas the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provided an update on applications for the CNMI Permanent Resident status that I created in U.S. Public Law 116-24. It has been over a year and half since the law was enacted. Of the 2,898 applications submitted, eight have been denied and 29 approved. That leaves 2,861 people still waiting. USCIS is trying to reduce that backlog, including by distributing the workload to more field offices. But, the agency says, it is facing numerous challenges due to COVID-19, including the closure of the Saipan Application Service Center, where biometric data is collected, and a high rate of Requests for Evidence to demonstrate eligibility for the new permanent resident status. The agency’s current COVID flexibilities do allow an additional 60 days beyond the normal 12-week response requirement for applicants to respond to RFEs.

VA extends debt collection pause

On Thursday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced the continuing suspension of collection on all veteran benefit overpayments and medical co-payment debts incurred after April 1, 2020 as part of its ongoing effort to provide veterans relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. The extension ends September 30, 2021. Veterans will receive notification of their current debt and expansive relief options which include extending repayment plans, waivers, compromises, and temporary hardship suspensions. For information about benefit overpayments, veterans and beneficiaries can view the Frequently Asked Questions, submit an online request, or call 1-800-827-0648. Veterans with questions about health care co-payment debts should contact the Health Resource Center at 1-866-400-1238. 

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants:

·     Recreational Fisheries Competition

·     Marine Education and Training Mini Grant Program

·     Diesel Emission Reduction Act Program

Public Comments

·     Coral reef data

·     Agriculture grant data

·     Tax form changes

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

This week the House was in recess for the Committee Work Week.

NEXT WEEK

H.R. 546 - Effective Assistance of Counsel in the Digital Era Act