THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - February 26, 2021

Feb 28, 2021

In this issue:

·     More vaccine on the way

·     American Rescue Plan moves ahead

·     $1,000+ Child Tax Credit increase

·     Hopwood classroom visit

·     How to recover lost learning hours

·     Congressional award info sessions

·     Furloughed workers now PUA eligible

·     18,685 unemployment claims pending

·     Guerrero previews Chamber plans

·     CPA voices minimum wage concern

·     $2.5m for conservation, recreation

·     Monument plan finally available

·     $139k for vulnerable wildlife

·     $428.5k for historic preservation

·     Naturalization test info session

·     Meeting with Korean Cultural Center

·     $739,500 for Prior Service

·     Kilili Time Capsule

·     Opportunities

·     Legislative highlights

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More vaccine on the way

The Marianas will receive 9,360 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the first week of March. This is a 20 percent increase over February’s allocation and will bring the total doses of the Pfizer vaccine for the Marianas to 30,810. Each individual needs two doses, 21 days apart, for maximum effectiveness. The Marianas will also receive 4,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine, 43 percent more than February’s allocation for a total of 12,800 doses. Two injections are also required for Moderna to be effective. Vaccine distribution data for both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines is publicly available on CDC’s website.

$1,000+ Child Tax Credit increase

One change I negotiated in the Manager’s amendment to the American Rescue Plan is money for the Marianas to pay the increased Child Tax Credit monthly, rather than once a year. The CTC is also going up from $2,000 per child through age 16 to $3,000 per child through age 17. And parents of children six-years-old and under will receive up to $3,600 for each child. In last week’s version of the Rescue Plan payments were to become monthly—everywhere except in the insular areas. I got that fixed in the Manager’s amendment, so parents in the Marianas will also be eligible for advance monthly payments. I also added the $300,000 the Commonwealth told us would be needed to cover the cost of cutting the $250 or $300 checks monthly. The Governor would still have the option to stick with an annual payment, however, if he does not want responsibility for making monthly payments. Child support payments like this have shown to boost academic achievement and improve children’s health and well-being. Long-term studies point to increased lifespans and higher incomes for those helped by these cash transfers. I urge parents to use the money wisely to help their children.

Furloughed workers now PUA eligible

Marianas workers who had their hours reduced or were furloughed, while their place of employment stayed open, will now be able to collect Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. The Biden administration issued new guidance yesterday, reversing a Trump administration decision to cut off CNMI government employees and some private sector workers from the federal unemployment aid. I wrote the new President, along with Guam Delegate Michael F.Q. San Nicolas and 11 other Democratic colleagues, the day after Biden’s inauguration, asking for a review of the harmful Trump policy. The “Marianas (kk) expansion,” as the Congressional Research Service is referring to this new interpretation of Section 2102(a)(3)(A)(ii)(I)(kk) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, allows any individual, who previously filed a PUA/FPUC claim and was denied for any week, to be given the opportunity to self-certify eligibility under the updated eligibility criteria and receive unemployment aid retroactively. 

18,685 unemployment claims pending

18,685 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation applications are still waiting to be processed by the Commonwealth as of February 13, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL). These latest numbers are an increase from the 18,608 applications that were reported pending as of December 12. USDOL tells the congressional office that as many as 18,002 applications, however, may be fraudulent.

$2.5m for conservation, recreation

The Commonwealth’s Division of Fish and Wildlife is receiving $2,512,312 in Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program grants, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday. DFW is receiving $1,380,868 in sport fish restoration funds for fishery projects, boating access, and aquatic education, and an additional $1,131,444 in wildlife restoration funds for supporting projects to restore, conserve, manage, and enhance wild birds and mammals and their habitat. The funds are made available from revenues generated by the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration acts. When anglers, hunters, and boaters purchase equipment and fuel, the manufacturers and importers of those goods pay into the Wildlife Restoration, Sport Fish Restoration and Boating trust funds. These funds are then distributed to support wildlife agencies across the country. Funding increased substantially this year due to increases in fishing equipment, motorboat fuel, and firearm revenues.

Monument plan finally available

The long awaited draft management plan for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was released Wednesday—10 years overdue—and now the public comment period begins. President George W. Bush created the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument on January 6, 2009. His Presidential Proclamation 8335 included a two-year deadline for the Interior and Commerce secretaries to prepare the management plan and write regulations to provide for scientific exploration and research, public education and outreach, and sustainable fisheries in the Monument. The draft plan was prepared by the two federal departments in cooperation with the Commonwealth government. The plan defines agency management roles and responsibilities and lays out the goals, objectives, and proposed management activities for the next 15 years. The plan also includes an environmental assessment to evaluate the potential impacts of implementing the proposed management actions. Public comments will be accepted through May 25, 2021. For more information and to submit comments, go to the Federal Register notice.

$139k for vulnerable wildlife

The Commonwealth’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Lands and Natural Resources, is also receiving $138,770 from the State Wildlife Grant Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday. The funds will be used to help address a variety of conservation needs identified in the Marianas Wildlife Action Plan including research, fish and wildlife surveys, species restoration, habitat management, and monitoring. The State Wildlife Grants are specifically targeted at accelerating the recovery of threatened and endangered species and preventing other species from having to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Funds are allocated by formula based on population size and geographic area. Congratulations to DFW.

$428.5k for historic preservation

The Commonwealth’s Historic Preservation Office of the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs is receiving $428,531, the National Park Service announced Wednesday. The grant will be used to support a variety of historic preservation and community projects focused on heritage preservation. The money will also provide technical assistance to private and public interests that seek to preserve and protect historic resources in the Marianas. Appropriated by Congress, Historic Preservation Fund grants are administered by the Park Service and awarded annually to states and territories for the identification and protection of historic properties and supporting activities. Established in 1977, funding for the Historic Preservation Fund is provided by Outer Continental Shelf oil lease revenues. Congratulations to HPO.

Naturalization test info session

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is hosting a webinar on the naturalization civics test on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 from 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm ET/ Thursday, 6:30 am to 7:30 am ChST.  Experts will provide an overview of the two versions of the test, the online test preparation materials, and other resources. The test is part of the process to become a naturalized citizen. The two versions are from 2008 and 2020. Both are oral tests. The 2008 civics test will be given to applicants who filed the Form N-400 on or before November 30, 2020.  Applicants who filed on or after December 1, 2020 and before March 1, 2021 will have the option to take the 2008 or 2020 exam. To register and for more information, go to the USCIS website. For study materials for both tests, click here.

$739,500 for Prior Service

The Interior Department announced funding of $739,500 for the Prior Service Trust Fund Program last Friday. The Fund benefits approximately 700 former employees of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The Federal government assumed responsibility for these retirees, when the Trust Territory ended in 1986. The former TT employees live today in the Marianas, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

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

·     H.R. 546 - Effective Assistance of Counsel in the Digital Era Act (passed, 414-11)

·     H.R. 5 - Equality Act (passed, 224-206)

NEXT WEEK

·     H.R. 1 - For the People Act

·     H.R. 1280 - George Floyd Justice in Policing Act 2021