THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - January 31, 2020

Feb 3, 2020

In this issue:

·     How to spend $56 million

·     $1.5m more for typhoon management

·     School funding could be restored

·     Medicare info sessions scheduled

·     Enforcing worker protections

·     Apply now for Teacher Institute

·     U.S. Embassies feature Marianas

·     Compact impact funds cut

·     Raising the profile of the Marianas

·     Defending social security

·     Calling all youth

·     Protect NEPA and our environment

·     Welcome back, Olivia

·     Kilili Time Capsule

·     Opportunities

·     Legislative highlights

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How to spend $56 million

The Environmental Protection Agency will be meeting Commonwealth officials next week to plan use of $56 million for solid waste management I earmarked for the Marianas in Title VII of last year’s Disaster Relief Act, PL 116-20. EPA may also discuss an additional $10.4 million I set aside for water in the Act. I wrote to the Governor and legislative leaders Wednesday to point out the $56 million is not just for disposal of typhoon waste, but “for other solid waste management activities” and is “available until expended.” I intended the money be used to address the longstanding need for modern, environmentally-sound waste facilities on Tinian and Rota. The open dump on Tinian is a barrier to economic development. And the people of Rota should have a waste facility that protects the beauty of their island. The existing Marpi landfill, too, we learned this week, needs help. The money is there now; the Commonwealth should take action.

$1.5m for typhoon management

The Commonwealth is receiving $1,522,764.30 more for management costs resulting from Super Typhoon Yutu, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Tuesday. These include any indirect cost, direct administrative cost, or other administrative expense associated with Yutu. The Disaster Recovery Reform Act caps funding for these costs no more than 10 percent by a primary grant recipient, in this case the Commonwealth, and 5 percent by any subgrantees.

U.S. embassies feature Marianas

Attracting visitors to our islands from beyond our traditional tourism markets helps support jobs and the Marianas’ economic recovery. That is why I worked with the U.S. Department of State to include the Marianas’ visa waiver program on the websites of the U.S. embassies in Malaysia and Singapore. Citizens of both nations can visit the Marianas visa-free. Including this information in the Malay language as well as English will help prospective tourists make the decision to visit the Marianas. 

Compact impact funds cut

Knowing exactly how many people from the freely associated states of Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia live in the Marianas and what that costs the Commonwealth is a million dollar question. Congress provides about $34 million annually divided among the Marianas, American Samoa, Guam, and Hawai’i, based on FAS population counts. And the Marianas typically receives $2.1 million of that. But the U.S. Census Bureau recently found they have been significantly undercounting the number of FAS residents in Hawaii since 2013. As a result, going forward payments to the Marianas will be reduced by $727,210 annually. The other territories will also lose compact impact funds. This just underscores the importance of my request to Governor Torres earlier this month to begin filing compact impact reports with the federal government again. The last time the Commonwealth reported on the number and cost of FAS immigrants was 2003. 

Defending social security

Over 1,100 people in the Marianas, receiving Social Security disability benefits, are at risk of losing their benefits, if a proposed new rule (84 FR 63588) goes into effect. The new rule increases how often the people receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income disability benefits are checked to see if they are still disabled. These “continuing disability reviews” are complicated. And people will lose their benefits, if they cannot navigate the process. I voiced my opposition in a letter to Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul this week.

Protect NEPA and our environment

To fight against President Trump’s recent proposal to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), I joined hundreds of bipartisan Members of Congress in sending two letters to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to help ensure that the public continues to be informed and have a meaningful role when local communities are impacted by federal actions. CEQ’s proposal would undermine public input, allow climate change impacts to be ignored, shorten review times, and permit certain major projects to evade environmental review altogether. We wrote opposing the proposal to basically eliminate any consideration of climate change under NEPA. Currently, NEPA is the only law requiring consideration of how federal projects may contribute to climate change and how the climate will impact critical infrastructure. We also asked that the comment period be extended from the proposed 60 days to at least six months, and that there be at least five public hearings held on the proposed rollback of this bedrock environmental law. The Marianas knows well the importance of NEPA. In 2015, over 30,000 comments were submitted on the U.S. military’s proposal to develop live-fire training ranges on Tinian and Pagan. The level of public involvement and concern forced the military to prepare a revised draft proposal to better study potential impacts to water, coral, transportation, and other effects. The revised draft has yet to be released.

OPPORTUNITIES

Scholarships/Fellowships

·     President Harry S. Truman Scholarship (Due 2/24/20)

·     Senator Barry Goldwater Scholarship (Due 1/31/20) 

·     President James Madison Fellowship (Due 3/1/20)

·     Pacific Territory Fishery Capacity-Building

·     APAICS Congressional Fellowship

Grants

·     Preparing for Active Shooter Situations

·     Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act

·     Community Development Program

·     Rural Business Development Grant

Public Comments

·     NUPC database

·     Marine mammal testing

·     NPS forms for grants

·     Transport data

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 943 - Never Again Education Act (passed, 393-5)
  • H.R. 4704 - Advancing Research to Prevent Suicide Act (passed, 385-8)
  • S. 153 - Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act (passed by voice vote)
  • H.R. 5338 - Global Hope Act of 2019 (passed by voice vote)
  • H. Res. 752 - Supporting the rights of the people of Iran to free expression, condemning Iranian regime for its crackdown of legitimate protests, and for other purposes (passed by voice vote)

NEXT WEEK