THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - July 03, 2020

Jul 6, 2020

In this issue:

·     Marianas CIP increases in H.R. 2

·     Apply now for permanent status

·     CARES Act: Where are the unemployment checks?

·     CARES Act: Rota, Saipan airports get $2.7m

·     CARES Act: PPP extended

·     Senate looks at COVID-19 impact

·     NMI STEM, AMBER Alert funding ok’d

·     Career Education Act progresses

·     MLSC launches legal helpline

·     $1.9m for preparedness

·     $300k to NMC for apprenticeships

·     $444k to protect natural resources

·     Need help with Social Security?

·     USCIS extends response deadlines

·     Telework update

·     Calling all tech-savvy students

·     Kilili Time Capsule

·     Opportunities

·     Legislative highlights

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Marianas CIP increases in H.R.2

Funding to reopen and rebuild island schools, maintain roads, make broadband more available, and invest in hospitals and community health centers is all part of a sweeping infrastructure bill passed by the House on Wednesday. My amendment increasing water funding for the Marianas was added during floor debate. A 1.5 percent set-aside for water and sewer systems in insular areas, approved year-by-year since 2010, would now become permanent. I am, also, a cosponsor of H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, which invests $1.5 trillion in our nation’s infrastructure, while creating good-paying jobs and combating the climate crisis. Highlights include:

·     $100 billion investment in schools nationwide, including $500 million for the insular areas to construct, modernize, and renovate public school facilities with special attention to the needs for social distancing and online learning because of the coronavirus,

·     $25 billion in Drinking Water State Revolving Funds to which my amendment making permanent the 1.5 percent set-aside of Safe Drinking Water Act funds for the insular areas would apply. Current law authorizes only 0.33 percent,

·     $40 billion in new wastewater infrastructure with permanent authorization of an 1.5 percent annual set-aside for insular areas of Clean Water Act funds, up from the current 0.25 percent,

·     $100 million in annual Territorial Highway Funds, up from $42 million per year,

·     An increase of $400,000 for the Marianas' new bus transit system,

·     $100 billion for broadband internet infrastructure including $685 million for the development and implementation of “digital equity” plans,

·     $50 broadband benefit for low-income households,

·     $10 billion for the construction and modernization of our nation’s hospitals and medical facilities,

·     $10 billion for community health center capital grants,

·     $300 million to improve insular area childcare facilities,

·     $70 billion for renewable energy systems,

·     $4 billion annually for Airport Improvement Program grants, and

·     Grant eligibility for the Marianas to develop and implement AMBER Alert notifications.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is unclear what action the Republican majority will take. Although surface transportation programs expire on September 30, the White House issued a statement saying the president would veto the Moving Forward Act if it reached his desk.

Apply now for permanent status

Spouses and parents of U.S. citizens, in-home caregivers, certain stateless individuals, and persons given resident status under Commonwealth law in the early 1980s can live and work permanently in the Marianas thanks to my Northern Mariana Islands LongTerm Legal Residents Relief Act, U.S. Public Law 116-24. But you must apply by August 17. After that the permanent resident status will no longer be available. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services held a virtual outreach session on how to apply Thursday. 269 people participated. Agency officials emphasized that applicants must submit both Form I-955, Application for CNMI Long-Term Resident Status, and Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, along with required documents and fees to be considered for status. Unless both forms are submitted together, the application will be rejected. Additional information is available at https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/cnmi-long-term-resident-status. Questions about the CNMI Long-Term Resident Status can be sent to Hawaii.CommunityRelations@uscis.dhs.gov. Remember: This is the only opportunity and August 17 is the deadline to apply. Applications postmarked after that date will not be accepted.

Where are the unemployment checks?

Three months after passage of the CARES Act, workers laid off in the Marianas because of coronavirus still have not received their unemployment checks–$945 per week for most. Natural Resources and Education and Labor committee chairs Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) and Robert Scott (D-Virginia) and I asked U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia this week to explain the unacceptably long delay. Very few can go for three months without income. The Commonwealth could not immediately take applications and cut checks, because there is no existing unemployment system. But Guam faced the same problem and is already paying out the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. And $70 million from the CARES Act is available right now to make the payments and pump into the Marianas economy. We also forwarded to Secretary Scalia a letter from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) confirming that everyone laid off as a result of coronavirus should be eligible for unemployment, regardless of immigration status. Their committees were responsible for writing the law.

CARES Act: Rota, Saipan airports get $2.7m

The Commonwealth Ports Authority is receiving two grants worth $2,700,068, the Department of Transportation announced Tuesday. One grant provides $2,144,513 for the installation of 20,625 feet of perimeter fencing around the Benjamin Taisacan Manglona International Airport in Rota. The fence will keep unauthorized persons and vehicles off the airfield. $214,451 of the grant comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which Congress passed in March. The second grant, worth $555,555, will be used for designing water system improvements in the existing aircraft rescue firefighting building at the Francisco C. Ada Saipan International Airport. The improvements will meet standards for rapid refill of aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles. $55,555 comes from the CARES Act. Congratulations to CPA.

CARES Act: PPP extended

The House and Senate voted this week to extend the Paycheck Protection Program through August 8. The legislation awaits the President’s signature. There remain about $100 billion in PPP funds for businesses and nonprofits in need of relief. In the Marianas 461 PPP loans, worth $38,791,593, had been approved as of June 27, as well as 206 Economic Injury Disaster Loans, worth $13,154,600. 208 EIDL grant advances worth $1,022,000 have been approved. The congressional office has received numerous inquiries about the Paycheck Protection Program. For example, whether individual entities can apply for more than one PPP loan: they cannot. Whether eligible PPP borrowers may pay dividends and bonuses to directors and employees: they can. Businesses, non-profits, and lenders with other questions about the Paycheck Protection Program can find answers to frequently asked questions from the Small Business Administration here. Updated regulations resulting from the PPP Flexibility Act’s enactment may be viewed here and here.

NMI STEM, AMBER Alert funding ok’d

Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawai’i) added two of my bills, when the House Armed Services Committee marked up the National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday. H.R. 4614 allows the Marianas and other insular areas to tap federal funding to build AMBER Alert systems to help find missing children. And my H.R. 6786 includes the Marianas in the Defense Department’s STARBASE education program. STARBASE aims to improve students’ skills in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) by partnering military installations with schools having high proportions of economically and educationally disadvantaged students. The Defense Act, H.R. 6395, now goes to the full House for consideration. Thank you, Representative Gabbard.

Career Education Act progresses

Expanding education assistance for military spouses took another step toward enactment this week. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pennsylvania), a cosponsor of my Military Spouse Career Education Act, offered the bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the House Armed Services Committee gave its okay during mark-up on Wednesday. The Career Education bill, also included in the Senate’s NDAA, would help wives and husbands of service members finish their college degrees more quickly and get training needed to re-license in their professions, when they must move to a new location under military orders. The bill, H.R. 6395, now heads to the House floor for consideration. Thank you, Representative Houlahan.

MLSC launches legal helpline

The Micronesian Legal Services Corporation announced its new Disaster Legal Helpline to provide services to those who have unresolved legal issues related to Typhoons Mangkhut or Yutu. To reach the helpline, call 235-0027 on Saipan, 285-6410 on Tinian, 284-0581 Rota, or email disaster@mlscnet.org. View the full press release here. MLSC received $1.2 million in December through the Disaster Relief Act, US Public Law 116-20

$1.9m for preparedness 

On Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced final allocations for FY 20 preparedness grants. The Commonwealth was allocated $1,000,000 under the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) and $920,700 under the Emergency Management Performance Grant Program. SHSP grants support the implementation of local homeland security strategies to prevent, respond to, and recover from terrorist acts and other catastrophic events. By law, twenty-five percent of program funds are to be used for law enforcement prevention activities. The EMPG Program provides funds to help state, local, tribal, and territorial emergency management agencies prepare for all hazards and assist in obtaining the resources needed to support National Preparedness Goal’s associated Mission Areas and Core Capabilities.

$300k to NMC for apprenticeships

Northern Marianas College was awarded a $300,000 State Apprenticeship Expansion grant on Wednesday to address the Commonwealth’s workforce challenges. Apprenticeships combine on-the-job training for young people with relevant classroom education, while getting paid at the same time. The College will partner with the Commonwealth’s Department of Labor to establish the apprenticeship program.

$444k to protect natural resources

The Commonwealth is receiving two grants totaling $443,685 funded by the Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources Program, the Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs announced Wednesday. $205,890 is going to the Division of Coastal Resources Management to revegetate deforested areas and provide wildfire surveillance in the Laolao watershed to improve soil stability and decrease the threat of sedimentation buildup on the coral reef and nearshore ecosystems. Funds will also be used to provide outdoor science education to fourth graders. And $237,795 is going to the Department of Natural Resources to eradicate the vine species Mucuna pruriens, also known as velvet bean. This invasive non-native vine has overrun several forested areas in Saipan and has been linked to allergic reactions and hospitalizations for individuals with certain skin conditions. Funded annually by Congress, the Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources program received $2,625,000 in FY2020.

Need help with Social Security?

The Social Security Administration reported to the congressional office this week it remains ready to assist Marianas residents during the public health emergency. All Social Security offices remain closed for walk-in visits. Most services, however, are available online. You can  apply for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits, request a replacement card, or obtain a benefit verification letter at www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices.  You can also speak to an SSA representative by calling 1-800-772-1213. A limited number of in-person appointments for critical matters may be available, if online or phone support is not sufficient. For more information, go to the Social Security website.

USCIS extends response deadlines

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is extending flexibility for certain requests, notices, and decisions issued between March 1 and September 11, 2020. According to Wednesday’s announcement, responses received within 60 calendar days after the specified due date or date of decision will be considered before taking any action. The complete list of documents covered by this policy can be found at https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/uscis-extends-flexibility-responding-agency-requests-0

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants

·     A note to those receiving or applying for federal grants during the coronavirus crisis: The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) may extend for up to 12 months certain grants set to expire between March 31 and December 31, 2020. OMB is also providing some deadline flexibility for grant applications. Check out these links for OMB’s March 9 and March 17 memo on these extensions.

·     NEH Care: Cultural Organization

Public Comments

·     Fishery data

·     Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver data

·     SRAE Program data

·     Marine mammals and testing

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

·     H.R. 2 - INVEST in America Act (passed, 233-188)

NEXT WEEK

Bills to be considered not ready at time of print.