THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - January 14, 2022

Jan 17, 2022

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$492m. relief fund rules issued 

The U.S. Treasury Department has issued its Final Rule on use of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds that Congress included in the American Rescue Plan Act, Public Law 117-2. Marianas state and local-level governments are receiving $492 million. The Commonwealth government gets $481,876,521, the single largest federal grant ever to go to the Marianas. Half of this money from Congress was from an equal division among the insular areas and half was allocated based on population. Another $10.4 million of Fiscal Recovery Funds was provided to the municipalities of Rota ($449,840), Tinian ($609,131), and Saipan ($9,366,170). Congress laid out four specific purposes for the money in the American Rescue Plan: 

  1. To pay for government services cut back because of lost revenues during the pandemic, 
  2. To assist households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or the tourism industry,
  3. To provide premium pay to essential workers dealing with the health emergency, and 
  4. To invest in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure projects.

The 437-page Final Rule from Treasury goes into greater detail and is supplemented by a 44-page summary.

Free COVID tests for households

The Biden administration announced today that a half-billion tests will be available free for American households to order online for home delivery. Your congressional office confirmed with the White House Marianas households are included in this nationwide response to COVID-19. Beginning January 19th Americans will be able to order rapid COVID-19 home test kits at COVIDTests.gov. The kits will ship within 7-12 days of ordering. Initially, four tests will be allowed per residential address without charge for the kits or the shipping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend at-home tests for persons who begin to have symptoms, who have come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19, or who are gathering indoors with people who are unvaccinated.

More COVID tests for K-12 schools 

To help schools remain open full-time and in-person, the White House also announced new measures on Wednesday to increase COVID-19 testing in schools: 5 million free rapid tests per month, 5 million free PCR tests per month, new federal testing sites in underserved communities, increased coordination with school districts and test providers, and new training and materials for in-classroom testing programs. Schools, child care centers and other facilities may enroll to access testing resources here. These efforts build on the $130 billion provided by Congress in the American Rescue Plan Act to safely reopen schools and on FEMA’s 100% reimbursement to local governments for school testing costs.

Guard and Reserve GI Bill ok'd

Members of the U.S. Army Reserve unit on Saipan would get GI Bill credit for every day they spend in uniform under terms of the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act, which I cosponsored and the House passed on Wednesday. Army Reserve and National Guard troops have had to respond to unprecedented crises in recent years, such as Super Typhoon Yutu. But these servicemembers do not accrue the same GI Bill benefits as their active-duty counterparts, even though they take on the same jobs with the same risks. H.R. 1836 rectifies that disparity and ensures that every day a Guard or Reserve member spends in uniform—including training days—will count toward their vital GI Bill benefits. The bill has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

USDOL clarifies PUA retroactivity 

At the last “Kilili Q&A,” a constituent asked whether CW-1 workers could apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation retroactively, if they were previously denied. I wanted to get clear guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on this technical question before answering; and, now, I have that answer. According to the Department, CW-1 workers are eligible for PUA and FPUC only for claims filed after December 27, 2020, the effective date that CW-1 workers became eligible for PUA as a result of the CARES Act amendment I included in U.S. Public Law 116-260. CW-1 workers are not eligible for PUA before that date.

In addition, the Commonwealth was required to accept new PUA applications for 30 days after September 6, 2021, which was the expiration date for the CARES Act unemployment assistance programs. The Commonwealth may, however, choose to accept PUA applications even after that date. The question arose because of the so-call Marianas (kk) expansion, the updated eligibility criteria and self-certification option that President Biden put in place for individuals who had previously been denied assistance. The Commonwealth was required by the U.S. Department of Labor to notify such individuals of the updated criteria and the option to self-certify eligibility to receive previously denied PUA claims.

$74.4m for Marianas education

The Marianas is getting $74.4 million for K-12 education from the coronavirus relief measure enacted on December 27.

Reminder: Veterans benefit outreach on Jan. 19

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration is holding an outreach event on Saipan, January 19, 2017 from 9a.m. to 3 p.m. to assist Northern Marianas veterans and their family members with benefits claims. Please see the VA flyer below for more details.

Bringing SNAP to the NMI may lower administrative cost

Recently, I wrote to Governor Benigno R. Fitial to further alleviate his concern about the cost of administering the regular SNAP program in the NMI. In addition to the study I had commissioned to determine the economic impact of bringing SNAP to the NMI, I did an analysis on the cost of running the current program under the block grant and found that cost might be higher than necessary, and the required 50% match under SNAP might even be lower than estimated.

Grants:

Jobs:

Public Comments:

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 1836 - Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act of 2021 (passed, 287-135)

NEXT WEEK 

  • S. 2959 - Supplemental Impact Aid Flexibility Act
  • H.R. 4673 - EVEST Act
  • S. 1404 – Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act
  • S. 452 – Willie O'Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act
  • Senate Amendment to H.R. 1192 – Puerto Rico Recovery Accuracy in Disclosures Act of 2021