THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - July 12, 2019

Jul 15, 2019

In this issue: 

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$360m okayed for Marianas Medicaid

A six-year legislative deal, including $360 million for Marianas Medicaid, won approval by the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Thursday. There is no local match required in the first two years; and in year six the match is set to the most generous for any U.S. state—76 percent federal/ 24 percent local. The Territories Health Care Act also requires the Commonwealth and other insular governments report annually to Congress, so we know if Medicaid funds are really improving health care for the people we represent. I introduced H.R. 3631 on Tuesday, along with a bipartisan group of nine other Members, after many months of negotiations over what to do when Obamacare funding for insular area Medicaid expires this year. Obamacare provided the Marianas with $163 million over nine years. The $360 million over six years in H.R. 3631 is a threefold increase. To bring negotiations to a head I held a hearing on the Medicaid issue in May, followed by a similar hearing by the Health Subcommittee in June. Chairman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) wants his Energy and Commerce Committee to mark up the bill next week to put it on the House agenda for quick action.

Medicaid data bill introduced

A commitment to transparency will be essential to win congressional approval of a long-term Medicaid funding fix. That is why, along with Florida Republican Gus Bilirakis and the other insular representatives, I introduced the Medicaid and CHIP Territory Transparency and Information Act on Tuesday. H.R. 3634 requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to publish on its website, and periodically update, specified information related to federal expenditures in the insular areas for Medicaid and CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program. Requiring enrollment, utilization, and expenditure data to be collected and made publicly available will not only give Congress greater assurance of program integrity, but will also strengthen our own local ability to improve health care for the people of the Marianas.

4 years funding for Kagman CHC

The Health Subcommittee also approved on Thursday another 4 years of funding for Kagman’s community health center and centers nationwide. The Community Health Investment, Modernization, And Excellence Act or “CHIME Act” will provide $4 billion each year. Kagman started up with Obamacare funding in 2012, making the health center eligible for annual funding from Congress every year since. Kagman advocates visited their congressional office in March to brief me on plans to expand to Tinian. I pledged to continue to support their important work through the annual appropriations process and authorizing legislation, like the CHIME Act. The Act also provides 4 years of funding for the National Health Service Corps, which sends qualified health professionals to high-need areas, such as the Marianas, in return for school loan repayments. The CHIME Act will be reviewed by the full Energy and Commerce Committee next week.

Tracking federal disaster aid

Keeping readers posted on the millions in federal disaster aid that continues to flow to the Marianas is one way to raise spirits and help with the on-going recovery.

  • Medicaid $36 million all available. The entire $36 million I included for Marianas Medicaid in the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act in June is now available for expenditure. We reported two weeks ago on release of an initial $14.3 million and that CHCC and other local vendors were already being paid $11.6 million in past due billings. The additional $24.4 million must be spent by September 30.
  • Dislocated Worker Grants - $50 million now available. Earlier this week, the Department of Labor informed me that dislocated worker grants I requested the Marianas be eligible for in Public Law 116-20 are now available. $49.5 million will go directly for grants to help workers laid off by disasters. The remaining 500,000 will allow the Department’s Inspector General to audit the use of the money or to investigate allegations of fraud and improper payments. Grant application procedures are explained at https://www.doleta.gov/grants/application_howto.cfm
  • FEMA awards $4m for PSS, Tinian. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided congressional notification and details on two grants this week:
  • $2,563,825.49 goes to the Public School System for building contents replacement as a result of Super Typhoon Yutu. 
  • $1,499,333.46 awarded to the Tinian Municipality in October will be used for permanent building repairs to the Tinian Municipality Council and Delegation Building.

Tinian divert $75m in House NDAA

On Friday, the House passed H.R. 2500, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 with $75 million for divert airfield projects on Tinian. The money is part of a larger authorization of $316 million that will be used over several years — $109 million for a parking apron, $98 million for phase one of the airfield development, and $109 million for fuel tanks with a pipeline/hydrant system. The Armed Services Committee believes the Air Force can spend $25 million for each project in FY20. This year’s $733 billion Defense bill also increases pay for service members by 3.1 percent and improves housing and other contributors to quality of life at military bases around the world. Approved NDAA amendments I offered or cosponsored this year include:

  • An amendment to ensure that qualified students holding or expecting to receive their associate degree, including those at Northern Marianas College, can apply for the new Technology and National Security Fellowship program just like their counterparts at four-year and graduate schools.
  • Amendments to improve benefits and services to veterans through better accountability measures and coordination between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
  • An amendment extending to the Marianas a provision in law that allows federal agencies to double the value of a contract awarded to a Puerto Rico business for purposes of the small business contracting goals.
  • An amendment urging the United States to promptly begin negotiations on the renewal of the expiring Compacts of Free Association with the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Read more on these amendments here.

Expanding veterans' benefits

GI bill benefits will cover the cost of preparatory courses for professional license and certification exams under provisions of my bill, H.R. 2934, amended to H.R. 3504 by the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday. Paying for exam prep courses will help veterans and eligible family members get into nursing and other careers requiring government-recognized licenses and certifications. H.R. 3504, the Ryan Kules Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act of 2019, prioritizes housing grants to vets who are seriously ill. It also improves the VA’s work-study program, and expands Fry Scholarship eligibility for the surviving spouse or children of deceased service members.

More vets may file Agent Orange claim

Blue Water Navy Veterans may now file disability compensation claims for conditions presumed to be related to Agent Orange exposure. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, of which I was an original cosponsor, became law on June 25. It creates a presumption of herbicide exposure for veterans who served aboard naval vessels offshore of the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. The law allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to wait to begin processing claims until January 1, 2020, so the Department can prepare for the additional workload. Eligible veterans may file their claim immediately, however. Veterans previously denied for a condition presumed related to Agent Orange, which includes Parkinson’s, certain cancers, and Type 2 diabetes  can file a new claim based on the law. Eligible survivors of deceased Blue Water Navy Veterans may file claims based on the veterans’ service. Go to https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/agent-orange/navy-coast-guard-ships-vietnam/ for additional information.

 
 
 
 
 

OPPORTUNITIES

Public Comments:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 2500 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 [Passed, 220-197]

NEXT WEEK

  • H.R. 736 - Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act
  • H.R. 1649 - Small Business Development Center Cyber Training Act of 2019
  • H.R. 2331 - SBA Cyber Awareness Act
  • H.Res 345 - Recognizing widening threats to freedoms of the press and expression around the world, reaffirming the centrality of a free and independent press to the health of democracy, and reaffirming freedom of the press as a priority of the United States in promoting democracy, human rights, and good governance on World Press Freedom Day
  • H.R. 2744 - USAID Branding Modernization Act