THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - June 21, 2019

Jun 24, 2019

In this issue:

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Parolees bill passes Senate
The Senate passed my bill, providing permanent status for up to 1,039 individuals living in the Marianas under humanitarian parole, on Thursday afternoon. H.R. 559 now goes to the President. If he signs the bill into law before June 29, parolees, who have lived lawfully in the Marianas since 2009, will be able to continue to live and work in the islands. Otherwise, the parolees, including parents and spouses of U.S. citizens, will be forced to leave. I am particularly grateful to Chairman Lisa Murkowski, who guided my bill quickly through the Senate after we passed it in the House on June 3. She was instrumental in extending the immigration transition period in 2014 and, again, with my U.S. Workforce Act last year. She understands why the Marianas needs special consideration, when it comes to immigration issues; and she has been willing to work hard to help us.
I also want to thank Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Joe Manchin, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senator Mazie Hirono. All had a role in passage of H.R. 559 in the Senate. No one can succeed in Congress without the help and goodwill of others. I am very grateful for the working relationships I have developed over the last eleven years that allow me to get the job done for the people of the Marianas.

Follow up on disaster funding
There is over $129 million in Marianas-specific set-asides in the disaster aid bill, Public Law 116-20 , and eligibility for tens of millions more; so, the congressional office will be closely tracking the distribution of funds. With the Marianas economy in jeopardy we want to get the money into the community quickly and keep you informed.
 
  • $14.3 million for Medicaid. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported to us on Wednesday that $14,278,981 of the $36 million we included in the disaster relief bill was added to the CNMI’s Payment Management System. Medicaid Director Helen Sablan received the grant award documents on Thursday.
 
  • Public transit funds. The Federal Transit Administration will publish a non-competitive Notice of Funding Opportunity in the Federal Register later this summer, with instructions on how disaster areas can apply for relief funds at Grants.gov. Applications, including damage assessments and emergency operations expenses, will be due 60 days later. FTA will then assess applicant needs and allocate the available $10,542,000 accordingly.
 
  • Legal Service Corporation. The Legal Services Corporation expects to issue a Federal Register notice shortly on the grant process for necessary expenses resulting from certain 2018 and 2019 disasters, including Typhoons Yutu and Mangkhut. Congress has provided $15 million for legal services.
House concurs on food stamp funds
The House adopted my amendment to the Agriculture appropriation bill on Thursday to ensure that the Northern Mariana Islands Nutritional Assistance Program has enough funding in FY20. I wanted Congress clearly on record that household income eligibility standards and benefit levels currently in place for FY19 are kept in place throughout the next fiscal year. No one should be kicked off the program and see their benefits cut. In my explanatory statement I also expressed congressional intent regarding the $25.2 million for the Marianas program I included in the disaster relief bill, Public Law 116-20 . The Marianas has already used $10.6 million for disaster nutrition assistance in response to typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu; and funds in the new law should cover this cost retroactively. Looking ahead, the economic emergency in the aftermath of the typhoons—tourism is down, Commonwealth revenues have fallen—means government hours shortened and teacher salary cuts. During a similar period of recession and austerity from 2008 through 2012, demand for food stamps was up 44 percent. Congress is now on record that disaster assistance should cover that emergency, if necessary.
$1.16m FEMA grant for Tinian
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced a $1,158,863.99 grant award to the Tinian Municipality for permanent building repairs to damage sustained from Super Typhoon Yutu. FEMA obligates the funds directly to the Commonwealth government. The Commonwealth is then responsible for disbursing the funds to the sub-recipient on a reimbursable basis once proper documentation is received. Funding for this grant award is authorized under Section 406 of the Robert T. Stafford Act.
Earned Income Tax Credit bill moves
The Marianas Legislature levied a 100 percent tax on the Earned Income Tax Credit in 1998 , a law I have recommended be repealed so that a federal cover-over of the credit would go to taxpayers , not the Commonwealth government. To date, the Legislature has taken no action on relieving low-income, working families of this tax burden. In the meantime, I cosponsored this week new legislation by New Jersey Representative Bill Pascrell, whose seat on the House Ways and Means Committee puts him in a position to move the bill. H.R. 3307 would reimburse mirror tax jurisdictions, such as the Marianas, 75 percent of the EITC cost. Pascrell added the language of his bill to H.R. 3300, the Economic Mobility Act of 2019 , when the Ways and Means Committee marked up the bill on Thursday and reported it to the House for passage.

Chained CPI threatens safety net
Changing the way the federal poverty level is calculated could reduce benefits for seniors and families in the Marianas and nationwide or cause them to lose eligibility entirely. So, I joined other Members of Congressopposing the Trump Administration’s proposal to use of the so-called chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) or “chained CPI” to compute annual adjustments to the Federal Poverty level which helps determine eligibility for important safety-net programs. Those threatened by this proposed change are Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and CHIP beneficiaries who could lose eligibility entirely or receive less assistance should the Trump Administration use chained CPI. With many beneficiaries still recovering from the impact of Super Typhoon Yutu, we cannot allow this proposal to happen.
Conservation funding approved
The House Natural Resources Committee approved a bill on Wednesday that provides $900 million annually to the Land and Water Conservation Fund . Allocation of the LWCF monies was recently amended in a sweeping lands package bill approved by Congress in March that gives the Northern Marianas a full state share of funding. Funds to the Marianas that can be used for public parks, playgrounds, sports fields, and beach areas will increase from $75,000 to around $800,000 annually. H.R. 3195 which was favorably reported in committee would provide the full $900 million annual authorized funding level for the LWCF. The Natural Resources Committee also approved other bills in Wednesday’s markup including H.R. 1941 to block offshore drilling and H.R. 1365 which makes technical corrections to the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act allowing funds to be disbursed for Guam war claims.
Cannabis laws safe from Feds
States and territories should have full authority to decide whether to legalize marijuana within their borders. That is why I supported Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer’s amendment to the U.S. Department of Justice spending bill that prevents the federal law enforcers from interfering with the implementation of state or territorial laws authorizing the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana. Behind the scenes negotiations led by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton successfully corrected an oversight leaving out the District of Columbia and the U.S. insular areas in an early version of the amendment. To date, 47 states and 4 insular areas, including the Marianas, have legalized some use of cannabis.

Expanding small biz opportunities
On Friday, I joined House Small Business Committee Chair Nydia Velazquez in introducing the Contracting Credit Equality Act, which expands federal contracting opportunities for small businesses in the Marianas and all U.S. territories. The bill allows federal agencies to double the value of a contract awarded to a business located in the any of the U.S. territories for purposes of meeting small business contracting requirements. Currently this contracting provision only covers Puerto Rico.
More funds for readiness training
On Tuesday, the House approved an amendment to H.R. 2740 , a minibus appropriations package, that I offered along with Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón of Puerto Rico, increasing funding for the Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training. The IRT program serves communities in need across the county, including the Northern Marianas, by providing humanitarian aid with health care, transportation, and infrastructure assistance, while providing realistic military training benefits to service members. Several IRT missions have taken place in the Marianas including free medical and dental clinics, improvements to the Tinian Health Center, and scope and design development for Tinian roadway repair. The President’s FY 2020 budget request included $15.6 million for IRT. House Appropriators recommended $25.6 million. Our amendment increased IRT funding to $30 million.

OPPORTUNITIES
LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS
THIS WEEK
  • H.R. 2740 — Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2020 (Passed 226-203)
 
NEXT WEEK
  • H.R. 2109 - BRAVE Act
  • H.R. 2196 - To amend title 38, United States Code, to reduce the credit hour requirement for the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship program of the Department of Veterans Affairs
 
Committee Activity
Tuesday, June 25
  • Committee on Education and Labor will hold a full committee hearing titled, "Do No Harm: Examining the Misapplication of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."
 
Wednesday, June 26
  • House Veterans Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing on "Ensuring Access to Disability Benefits for Veteran Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma."
  • The Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife will hold a legislative hearing on pending legislation.