THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - June 07, 2019

Jun 10, 2019

In this issue:

Goal: faster federal aid to schools

Democrats pass disaster aid

- $129.6M in Marianas set-asides

• 150M+ expected from CDBG-DR

House okays parolees bill

New vets community care program

Veterans benefits counselor

Focus on Marianas food aid

Emergency food & shelter: $83,720

The ocean is all around us

Opportunities

Legislative Highlights

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Goal: faster federal aid to schools

How best to get help to America’s schools after a natural disaster was the goal of the hearing I held Wednesday, as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education. School leaders from the Marianas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and California testified about the barriers they faced getting the federal aid they need to recover from recent typhoons, hurricanes and wildfires. Assistant Secretary Frank Brogan of the Education Department reported on plans to use quickly the $165 million Congress approved in school disaster aid on Monday. Brogan said the Department had already formed a team and will have spending plans ready within the next 30 days. My Subcommittee will maintain oversight of these plans. We want to be sure students nationwide—in disaster-damaged, inadequate, unsafe, or overcrowded schools—have the physical environment they need to resume learning, preferably by the time the new school year begins. Watch the hearing here.

Democrats pass disaster aid

-$129.6M in Marianas set-asides

House Democrats passed a disaster aid bill for the Marianas and other communities struck by natural disaster in 2018 and 2019 on Monday, after repeated attempts by Republicans to block the bill. The President, who had also stood in the way of passage, signed it on Thursday. I was able to include special set-asides for the Marianas worth $129.6 million and made sure we are eligible for tens of millions more in recovery grants for schools, Head Start, community health centers, roads, and economic revitalization. Using the amendment process I added $36 million for Marianas Medicaid and $25.2 million for food stamps—also my first two floor votes in the 116th Congress. Behind-the-scenes negotiations yielded $56 million for solid waste and $10.4 million for water and sewer infrastructure. Another $2 million is included to help the Marianas manage the influx of federal money. The congressional office will be following up with all federal agencies that manage the aid programs to make sure funding gets through to the Marianas as quickly as possible.

 

$150M+ expected from CDBG-DR

Among federal grant programs the Marianas is eligible for in the just-signed disaster appropriation, the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery program is expected to yield $50 million. Added to some $100 million in CDBG-DR from legislation we passed last year, the Commonwealth will have about $150 million for housing rehabilitation, infrastructure repair and resilience, economic revitalization, and to use as the local match for FEMA grants. Because the Commonwealth has never before received CDBG-DR and because of the amounts involved, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is responsible for the money, plans to send a team to the islands later this month. The HUD team will spend two days refining understanding of needs before announcing final funding allocations in August. The team will also brief Commonwealth officials on the stringent requirements for CDBG-DR. A detailed plan of expenditure is necessary, as well as certification that procurement processes and financial management meet HUD standards, or funds will not be released.

House okays parolees bill

Legislation giving permanent status in the Marianas to over a thousand people passed the House on Monday. They have been living in the islands under humanitarian parole granted by the Obama administration, but the Trump administration ended the parole program in January and gave parolees until June 29 to adjust immigration status or leave the Marianas. I introduced the Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act in response and the Trump administration did back my effort to give the parolees permanent status in law. My bill, H.R. 559, covers five categories of people, all of whom have lived in the Marianas since before federal immigration was extended to our islands a decade ago. I introduced a similar status bill in 2009, my first year in Congress; and in 2011 had a bill set to pass the House, until then-Governor Benigno Fitial effectively lobbied fellow Republicans to vote it down. Fortunately, the Obama administration offered the parole status in 2011, which worked until the Trump administration ended that help. If the Senate now passes H.R. 559, it will be the result of a decade of work for me and a decade of uncertainty for many Marianas families.

New vets community care program

Marianas veterans enrolled in VA health care are eligible for the new Veterans Community Care Program, which launched on June 6. Because we do not yet have a full-service VA medical facility in our islands, veterans here qualify for the new program. The new program consolidates all existing VA community health care programs, including the Choice Program, with the goal of improving veteran care. Veterans can still choose to receive VA care or to obtain care from a community provider. And to schedule an appointment with a private doctor veterans can still call TriWest, the former VA Choice Program Administrator in the Pacific. TriWest will then connect the veteran to VA Health staff who will assist the veteran. Additional information on what veterans can expect with the new program is available here.

 

Focus on Marianas food aid

To get information on food assistance and school meal programs for the Marianas I asked to sit in with the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services Tuesday for a hearing “Examining the Priorities of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.” I discussed with Food and Nutrition Services Administrator Brandon Lipps how school meal reimbursement costs are set for the Marianas, since FNS does not include us in its food cost studies. I also asked why the Department does not use its statutory authority to move the Marianas into the SNAP program, a move I have long advocated. I put $25.2 million for food aid in the disaster appropriation bill enacted this week and secured $32.5 million for the Marianas in the 2014 Farm Bill. As a result, more households are now eligible and benefits are at the SNAP level, but we would be on firmer footing for the long-term if the Marianas were in SNAP. I will be meeting again with Administrator Lipps to pursue this goal. Watch the video of my questioning here.

Emergency food & shelter: $83,720

The Northern Marianas is receiving $83,720 to feed and shelter the hungry and homeless. The Federal Emergency Management Administration announced the annual grant on Thursday. Congress appropriated $120 million in the FY18 funding now being allocated, which I supported. The money helps social service organizations feeding, sheltering and providing critical resources to the hungry and homeless in non-disaster emergencies. You can see here how the Marianas uses its money each year.

 

OPPORTUNITIES

Public Comments:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 559 – Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act (Passed by voice vote)
  • H.R. 2157 – Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, 2019 (Passed 354-58)
  • H.R. 6 – American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (Passed 237-187)
  • S. 1379 – Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019 (Passed by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1716 – Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2019 (Passed by voice vote)

NEXT WEEK

  • H.Res. 430 – Authorizing the Committee on the Judiciary to initiate or intervene in judicial proceedings to enforce certain subpoenas and for other purposes
  • H.R. 2740 — Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2020

Committee Activity

Tuesday, June 11

  • Committee on Education and Labor will hold a full committee markup

Thursday, June 13

  • Subcommittee on Water, Oceans & Wildlife will hold a legislative hearing on several pending bills