THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - July 20, 2018

Jul 23, 2018

In this issue:

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U.S. Workforce Act update

No action from President Trump on the Northern Marianas Islands U.S. Workforce Act this week. The bill was presented to the President last Friday and he has until July 24 to sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without his signature. Governor Torres’ press office has said, “the governor has received assurances that the President will sign the bill.”

The timing is right. The President is focused on putting more Americans to work, as he announced Thursday with establishment of a National Council for the American Worker. “The Trump Administration has already taken action to expand apprenticeships; increase access to high-quality Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education for K–12 students; and encourage companies to invest more of what they earn in American workers and American production,” the White House says. I included in Section 3 of the U.S. Workforce Act new authority to use the training fees, which employers of CW workers pay, for apprenticeships. And, as a senior member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, I look forward to supporting any proposals to increase STEM education for students in the Marianas and throughout our nation. See, CODIFY CNMI up and running.

NMI homes, businesses saved $73M

The House voted Thursday to continue the important change in the funding formula for water and sewer projects that I first secured in 2010 and have kept in place ever since. The result has been $73 million in funding, which, CUC says, has made possible 24-hour water to 96 percent of Saipan. The provision is part of H.R. 6147, the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019. Before we had representation in Congress, the Marianas received only about $1 million annually from the Clean Water and Safe Drinking State Revolving Funds. After we had representation, we got the insular area set-asides for those two programs increased from 0.28 percent and 0.33 percent, respectively, to 1.5 percent, each. Annual funding increased to over $6 million, and Marianas homes and businesses saved $73 million on their CUC bills.

More money for Insular areas

Also included in the FY19 Interior appropriation is $20.8 million for Assistance to Territories. The Trump administration had recommended cutting funding to $14.7 million. Congress provides these funds for direct grants to each insular area (see Marianas gets $2.3M for TAP and MAP) and for crosscutting programs such as Close Up, Junior Statesman, the Prior Service Trust Fund, and financial management and training programs.

$508K to stop the snake

The CNMI Department of Land and Natural Resources is getting $507,383 for its Brown Tree Snake Interdiction Program for fiscal year 2018, the Interior Department announced on Friday. The fiscal 2019 appropriation passed by the House this week will continue funding at that level. The money pays the salaries of cargo inspection teams on Saipan, Tinian and Rota. They conduct visual and canine inspections, deploy traps around ports of entry, and train for rapid-response in case of a snake sighting. The federal funds allow for inspection of at least of 90 percent of cargo coming into the Marianas.

Protecting our cultural heritage

From the Marianas Fruit Bat to the Sei Whale our islands and surrounding waters are home to a variety of unique and endangered species. But that cultural heritage is further threatened by Republican proposals tacked on to the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act, now in conference committee. The anti-environment and anti-conservation proposals are unrelated to military readiness. So, along with 118 of my colleagues I urged the conference leaders to reject this attempt to undermine the science-based decision-making set out in the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act and cause widespread, negative consequences for wildlife and land conservation. We must protect our heritage for future generations.

Food aid for more families?

In response to my letters of June 12 and July 17, urging Governor Torres to use the $17 million available to him to make more families eligible for food aid, the Governor has apparently said yes. This is good news for the 4,760 Marianas families living below the federal poverty line, many of whom do not qualify for food stamps under the current CNMI income standards. The Governor wrote to me on July 18 saying his surplus funds will be “reduced drastically” after meetings in August, “where the [U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service] will make determinations on an increase to eligibility benefits that will put us at or close to Guam eligibility levels.” On Guam, a family of four with income up to $31,980 is eligible for assistance. In the Marianas, now, the eligibility level is $17,412. According to the Governor, he will close that gap.

Unfortunately, the Governor’s action comes too late to allow for new funding in the “farm bill,” working its way through Congress. See, Slow spending means no new food stamp funds. The Agriculture Improvement Act, H.R. 2, has already been passed by both the House and the Senate and conferees were appointed on Tuesday. I will, however, continue working towards my goal of full inclusion of the Marianas in SNAP, the national food stamp program. See, Senate farm bill helps Marianas.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants:

Jobs:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 6147 – Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019 (Passed, 217-199)
  • H.R. 1376 – Electronic Message Preservation Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 5480 – Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 4989 – Protecting Diplomats from Surveillance Through Consumer Devices Act (Passed, 412-0)
  • House Amendment to S. 899 – Veterans Providing Healthcare Transition Improvement Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • House Amendment to S. 717 – POWER Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.Con.Res. 119 – Expressing the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy (Passed, 229-180)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R.754 – Anwar Sadat Centennial Celebration Act
  • H.R.6410 – To provide for the administration of certain national monuments, to establish a National Monument Enhancement Fund, and to establish certain wilderness areas in the States of New Mexico and Nevada

NEXT WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 6199 – Restoring Access to Medication and Modernizing Health Savings Accounts Act of 2018
  • H.R. 6311 – Increasing Access to Lower Premium Plans and Expanding Health Savings Accounts Act of 2018
  • H.R. 184 – Protect Medical Innovation Act of 2017
  • H.R. 959 – Title VIII Nursing Workforce Reauthorization Act of 2018
  • H.R. 1676 – Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act
  • H.R. 3728 – EMPOWER Act of 2018
  • H.R. 2345 – National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018
  • H.R. 3994 – ACCESS BROADBAND Act
  • H.R. 6378 – Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2018
  • H.R. 4881 – Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018
  • House Amendment to S. 1182 – National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act of 2018
  • S. 2245 – KIWI Act

Committee Activity

Tuesday, July 24

  • Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Hearing on H.R. 4219, Workflex in the 21st Century Act
  • Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Legislative Hearing

Wednesday, July 25

  • Committee on Natural Resources Oversight Hearing on Management Crisis at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Implications for Recovery