THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - July 24, 2020

Jul 27, 2020

In this issue:

·     Schools need more aid to safely reopen

·     GI bill goes to President’s desk

·     Conservation, park repairs funded

·     NMI Small Biz Act clears House, Senate

·     NMI STEM, Career Ed Act closer to law

·     House green lights NMI AMBER Alert

·     More NDAA highlights

·     FY21 funding benefits Marianas

·     Don’t hide COVID-19 data

·     CARES Act: More NMI PPP/EIDL ok’d

·     Beware COVID-19 Medicare scams

·     U.S. Workforce Act info session scheduled

·     Deadline nears for permanent residence

·     $2.5m for preparedness, response

·     $3.6m to CUC for Yutu costs

·     Telework update

·     Kilili Time Capsule

·     Opportunities

·     Legislative highlights

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Schools need more aid to safely reopen                         

Examining the obstacles schools are facing to reopening safely amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and how Congress can help was the focus of a hearing I called Thursday as chair of the subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. School leaders, parents, and pediatricians, who testified, encouraged Congress to send schools more money so students can return to learning safely. In fact, the House has already done just that with the Heroes Act passed in May. The HEROES Act provides $81 million for Marianas schools. Funding can cover teacher and staff pay, distance learning technology, sanitation of schools, transportation, and health services. The White House, which threatened to defund schools that do not reopen, blocked experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from testifying at my subcommittee’s hearing. Watch here.

GI Bill goes to President’s desk

Veterans and their families will be able to use the GI bill to pay for preparatory courses for professional license and certification exams once the President signs a package of bills Congress sent to the White House on Monday. The package includes my bill, H.R. 2934, the GI Bill Access to Career Credentials Act, which is designed to help veterans and eligible family members get into nursing, teaching, technology and other careers that require government-recognized licenses and certifications by making it easier for them to pass the necessary tests. The package I piggybacked on also increases Special Adaptive Housing grant funding for disabled veterans and expedites VA work-study payments for students.

Conservation, park repairs funded

Increased, permanent funding of the annual Land and Water Conservation Fund grant to the Marianas is set to become law after the Great American Outdoors Act passed the House on Wednesday. H.R. 1957 provides full, permanent funding of $900 million in offshore oil and gas revenues each year to the LWCF which in turn means about $800,000 annually for the Marianas to safeguard our natural areas or to plan, develop, and maintain public outdoor recreation projects. Annual funding increased ten-fold last year with passage of the John J. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. That Senate bill packaged over a hundred separate legislative proposals together, including legislation I worked on for years, giving each insular area a state-share of LWCF funding. Previously, the five insular areas and the District of Columbia all split one state-share. But even with a full share funding was subject to annual appropriation limits. That is why I also voted for the permanent $900 million in funding when that legislation came before the House Natural Resources Committee, as H.R. 3504, on June 22, 2019. 21 Democrats voted in favor; 13 Republicans opposed. 

The Great American Outdoors Act also funds long-overdue maintenance needs at parks managed by the National Park Service, including the American Memorial Park on Saipan. Over the next five years, $6.65 billion will be allocated for repairs at facilities run by the Park Service. American Memorial Park is on the agency’s list for $10.6 million in repairs.

 

NMI Small Biz Act clears House, Senate

Businesses in the Marianas will have more access to Small Business Administration programs under terms of my Small Business Development Act, which both the House and Senate included in their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act this week. My bill makes the Marianas eligible for grant funding to establish an SBDC Lead Center and provides technical assistance to small businesses interested in seed funding from the SBIR and STTR programs. The House and Senate now go to a conference committee to resolve differences before final passage. Provisions like mine that are in both bills are not subject to removal.

NMI STEM, Career Ed Act closer to law                                   

Two of my bills - one expanding STEM education in the Marianas and the other helping for military spouses' career training - took another step toward enactment this week. 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 a high proportion of economically and educationally disadvantaged students. My second bill, the Military Spouse Career Education Act, will 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 House and Senate both approved both measures as part of their annual defense bills. The National Defense Authorization Acts in the House (H.R. 6395) and Senate (S. 4049) now go to a conference committee.

House green lights NMI AMBER Alert                                          

The House passed my bill adding the Marianas and other insular areas to the national AMBER alert system for finding missing children. AMBER alerts mobilize the community via radio, TV, and text messages and have helped locate almost one thousand children, since the system was created in 1996. Attached to H.R. 6395, the House’s annual defense bill, my AMBER Alerts Nationwide Act will give law enforcement in the Marianas the financial and technical resources from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Transportation to implement AMBER alerts in our community, hopefully saving lives. H.R. 6395 now goes to a conference committee to resolve differences with the Senate’s defense bill approved on Thursday.

More NDAA highlights

The annual defense policy bills authorize over $730 billion in discretionary spending for our national defense to maintain military readiness, enhance capabilities, improve personnel initiatives, and prioritize technological security. Additional provisions include:

·     A second consecutive 3% pay raise for service members

·     Continued oversight to ensure quality housing for military families

·     Hazardous duty pay for troops responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

·     Funds efforts to proactively increase the country’s ability to prepare for and respond to future pandemics

·     Enhanced military justice and sexual assault prevention and response initiatives

·     Continued efforts to address contamination associated with per-and polyfluorinated compounds in military communities

·     Funding to support research for climate crisis response

·     Requires a review and change of the names of all military bases and infrastructure named for individuals who served in the Confederacy

Prohibits the display of the Confederate flag on Defense installations

FY21 funding benefits Marianas

On Friday the House passed H.R. 7608, a “minibus” package of four FY 2021 spending bills: State-Foreign Operations, Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA, Interior-Environment, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. Some highlights benefitting the Marianas include:

Interior and Environment:

·     Continuation of the 1.5 percent set-asides for the insular areas in Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act funds over the statutory set-asides of 0.25 and 0.33 percent, respectively. The increase, which I started during my first term in Congress, has resulted in $85 million for the Northern Marianas through FY 2020 and brought 24-hour water to most Saipan households.

·     $2.76 billion for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, equal to the FY 2020 level which brought $7.2 million for the Northern Mariana Islands

·     $22.8 million for Office of Insular Affairs Technical Assistance grants, an increase of $2 million above the FY 2020 enacted level and $8.1 million above the President’s budget request

·     $12 million for the Energizing Insular Communities Program, $5.75 million above the FY20 level and $9.2 million above the budget request, to develop and implement action plans to help lower energy costs in the insular areas. Report language also directs Interior to improve reporting requirements of the program as prescribed in Public Law 113-235

·     $4.38 million in Maintenance Assistance grants

·     $3.5 million for the Brown Tree Snake Interdiction Program

·     $2.6 million for the Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources Program

Agriculture

·     $12 million for the Commonwealth’s Nutrition Assistance Program

·     $10 million for grants to the Marianas and other insular areas to increase production of locally grown food

Military Construction and Veterans Affairs

·     VA must report on the  feasibility to assign full-time, permanent VBA, Vet Center, and VHA staff in the Marianas and other underserved areas. 

VA’s hiring practices will be audited to determine whether the VA is fully using its existing authorities to recruit and retain qualified staff to serve Pacific veterans.

Don’t hide COVID-19 data

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidance on July 10 taking over COVID-19 data collection from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suddenly requiring the Commonwealth Health Center and hospitals around the country to take time and resources away from treating the pandemic and to develop a new reporting system is dangerous and irresponsible policy. In addition, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has made no guarantee the public will have access to the HHS data, as we do with CDC’s. So, I joined 88 of my Democratic colleagues in a letter to the Secretary, asking for an explanation of this decision and calling for transparency. Public health departments, providers, and researchers rely on the public availability of this data to track trends and make evidence based recommendations. 

CARES Act: More NMI PPP/EIDL ok’d

Marianas businesses and non-profits continue to be approved to receive CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program loans. As of July 17, 476 PPP loans worth $38,701,183 had been okayed. A list of those that received more than $150,000 is available here. And a list of Marianas financial institutions acting as lenders is listed here. Congress has extended the deadline to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program to August 8 and funding remains available. Meanwhile, the entire $20 billion Congress appropriated for grant advances to Economic Injury Disaster Loan applicants has been allocated. Through July 14, 274 EIDL grand advances worth $1,337,000 and 231 EIDLs worth $14,818,300 have been approved. The House-passed Heroes Act, however, adds another $10 billion for EIDL grants. To learn more about these programs visit the PPP website here and the EIDL website here. Download a PPP application here, and the EIDL application here. A step-by-step guide on the application process can be viewed here. EIDL applications are due by December 31.

Beware COVID-19 Medicare scams

Scammers are now calling, texting, and emailing Medicare beneficiaries with offers of free face masks, COVID-19 test kits, and other protective equipment in an attempt to get Medicare numbers. Our recommendation: Never give out your Medicare number or personal information in exchange for items; it could be a scam. Visit Medicare.gov/fraud for more tips on how to  protect yourself. And, if you suspect fraud, please, call 1-800-Medicare to report it.

$2.5m for preparedness, response

The Department of Interior released $2,518,897 to the Commonwealth to fund preparedness and response improvement projects. $2,147,097 will go directly to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation to improve parking lots, retrofit and renovate emergency rooms, upgrade sterilization systems, acquire critical infection control equipment, and purchase medical imaging systems and other supplies. $371,800 will also be available to transition the Marianas Resort Property into a 100-room non-congregate shelter to house quarantined individuals. The Marianas has kept cases low, so far. Should a surge in cases occur, however, improvements at the Resort could be put to use.

$3.6m to CUC for Yutu costs

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced a $3,627,835.14 award to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation for management costs associated with administering and managing the Public Assistance Program for Super Typhoon Yutu. Eligible costs include any indirect costs, direct administrative costs and expenses incurred by the Commonwealth.  The grant represents 5 percent of the total estimated eligible project costs to CUC. There is no local match required for these funds.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 6395 - William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (passed, 295-125)