THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - July 14, 2017

Jul 16, 2017

In this issue:

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Expanding the GI bill for veterans

On Thursday, all the members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Republicans and Democrats together, introduced legislation to modernize the GI Bill and increase educational opportunities for our veterans. The bill addresses a number of concerns brought to me by Marianas veterans:

  • Post-9/11 Reservists and Guardsmen, who were called to active duty under orders that did not allow for accrual of education benefits, would be made eligible for the GI bill.
  • The minimum benefit for veterans with less than 36 months of qualifying active service increases to 50 percent of the maximum amount payable.
  • Veterans who used their GI Bill benefits at a school that closed in the middle of a semester, retroactive to January 1, 2015, would regain their lost benefits.

The bill is expected to move through the House quickly with a legislative hearing set for July 17 and markup on July 19. The bill also extends new benefits to members of the National Guard and Reserve. My thanks to the leadership of Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tennessee) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-Minnesota) for working to improve the quality and accessibility of educational benefits earned by our veterans.

FY18 Appropriations move forward

The House Appropriations Committee has begun publishing and, in some cases, voting on its recommendations for the twelve fiscal year 2018 spending bills. The bills contain a number of provisions important for the Northern Marianas Islands that I have worked for:

  • Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
    • President Trump’s FY18 budget proposed cutting funding for Assistance for Territories, such as the Technical Assistance grants the Commonwealth received this month. I asked that appropriators provide more funding. The bill released this week adds almost $10 million to Assistance for Territories.
    • Because of the formula change I advocate for every year, the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Funds have provided $59 million to the Marianas since fiscal year 2010. Appropriators agreed to continue the enhanced formulas for these two programs, as I asked.
    • The President proposed eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Full funding for NEH was one of my spending requests and the Committee bill provides $145 million nationwide.
  • Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations
    • House appropriators accepted a joint request from myself and colleagues representing Guam and Hawai’i to ensure that federal agencies support the Department of the Navy’s Regional Biosecurity Plan. The Plan is intended to block invasive species that might be introduced in Micronesia due to the relocation of military personnel from Okinawa to Guam.
  • Labor, Health and Human Service, Education Appropriation
    • The improved funding formula for Marianas schools that I was able to have enacted in the Every Student Succeeds Act in the last Congress, requires a threshold appropriation of $15 billion. For fiscal year 2017, that requirement was met and Marianas schools will be receiving approximately $11 million as a result. The fiscal year 2018 appropriation bill keeps funding at the same level, meaning once again our schools will be seeing the extra money from my funding formula change.

We will be continuing to work to lock in good spending numbers and policy for the Marianas as the FY18 appropriations come together over the next weeks. 

Palau funding approved by House

The House passed the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act on Friday, including $123.9 million for the long overdue U.S.-Palau Compact Review Agreement. This is an important step towards getting the Palau Agreement approved and funded. Although the amount is less than I wrote into my bill extending the Palau Compact, H.R. 2085, it is what the U.S. and Palau originally agreed to. The Senate Armed Service Committee has included approval of the Review Agreement in its version of the 2018 NDAA, setting the stage for a conference committee that could merge the House and Senate language to both approve and fund the 2010 Palau Compact agreement. 

$3.8M for airport bridgeways

The Commonwealth Ports Authority is receiving $3,761,807 to replace three of the passenger loading bridges at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport. Congress provides the funding through the Airport Improvement Program administered by the Federal Aviation Administration. Improving the visitor arrival experience is a priority for the Marianas tourist industry, so continuing robust funding for our airport facilities is a priority for me in Congress. The funds are collected from a 7.5 percent tax paid on airline ticket purchases, a system that advantages smaller-hub airports, such as Saipan’s. Small-hub airports handle about 9 percent of passenger traffic, but receive 14 percent of the airport improvement grants. Without this redistribution, the Marianas would have to come up with the millions of dollars that are continually needed to keep facilities up-to-date, safe, and in good repair.

Island leaders unite on healthcare

All insular area representatives in Congress and four of five governors, including Governor Ralph Torres, have joined together on a common demand to improve federal health insurance in their commonwealths and territories. In a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate Finance Committee, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the House Ways and Means Committee, the insular leaders called for removal of the annual caps on funding for Medicaid and CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program. We also asked that the 55/45, federal/territorial, cost-sharing for Medicaid be replaced with the same cost-sharing system that states enjoy. In addition, our letter proposed that supplemental Medicaid funds given the territories in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, remain available past the current 2019 end-date. The Marianas received an extra $109 million from Obamacare and by the end of fiscal 2017 had spent $66.1 million. The money is credited with keeping the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation in business after the Northern Marianas Legislature cut its annual support. The Governors and Members of Congress proposed that all these changes be included in re-authorization of CHIP, which expires September 30. 

OPPORTUNITIES 

Grants:

Jobs:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS 

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 702 – Federal Employee Anti-discrimination Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1492 – Medical Controlled Substances Transportation Act of 2017 (Passed, 416-2)
  • H.R. 2664 – Enhancing Detection of Human Trafficking Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 2480 – Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 2200 – Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Re-authorization Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 23 – Gaining Responsibility on Water Act of 2017 (Passed, 230-190)
  • H.R. 2810 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (Passed, 344-81)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R.1928 – Families of Fallen Servicemembers First Act
  • H.R.3140 – To establish a National and Community Service Administration to carry out the national and volunteer service programs, to expand participation in such programs, and for other purposes
  • H.R. 1235 – Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act
  • H.R. 3218 – To amend title 38, United States Code, to make certain improvements in the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes
  • H.R. 3226 – To extend the supplemental security income program to Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa, and for other purposes

NEXT WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 806 – Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017
  • H.R. 2997 – 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act
  • H.R. 2910 – Promoting Interagency Coordination for Review of Natural Gas Pipelines Act
  • H.R. 2883 – Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act
  • H.R. 218 – King Cove Road Land Exchange Act

Committee Hearings

Tuesday, July 18

  • Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing on "ESSA Implementation: Exploring State and Local Reform Efforts"

Wednesday, July 19

  • Committee on Veterans' Affairs Legislative Markup
  • Committee on Natural Resources Legislative Hearing
  • Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans Oversight Hearing on "Exploring the Successes and Challenges of the Magnuson-Stevens Act"
  • Committee on Education and Workforce Markup on H.R. 2823, the Affordable Retirement Advice for Savers Act