THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - June 26, 2020

Jun 29, 2020

In this issue:

·     Eligible for paid sick leave?

·     CARES Act: more PPP; deadline soon

·     Apply for long-term resident status

·     Workforce authors explain touchback

·     Trump halts Marianas H workers

·     Moving Forward on infrastructure

·     Moving Forward amendments offered

·     How to safely reopen schools

·     Prioritize student mental health

·     George Floyd justice bill passes House

·     In the news: Career Education Act

·     House admits DC as 51st state

·     Telework update

·     Calling all tech-savvy students

·     Kilili Time Capsule

·     Opportunities

·     Legislative highlights

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Eligible for paid sick leave?

An interactive online tool is now available to help Marianas workers determine their eligibility for paid sick leave or extended family and medical leave. Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) on March 18, 2020, expanding  paid sick leave for up to two weeks, if an employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or quarantined on order from the government or advice of their doctor. Paid sick leave is also available for employees who need to care for family members at home with COVID-19 or for a child whose school or child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19. The FFCRA also extended family and medical leave benefits for up to 10 additional weeks for employees that have been employed for at least 30 days, to care for a child whose school or child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19. Additional information on paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave under the FFCRA can be found in the U.S. Department of Labor’s frequently asked questions page.

CARES Act: more PPP; deadline soon

More Marianas businesses and non-profits are approved for the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. As of June 20, 440 PPP loans worth $38,159,067 have been okayed as well as 169 EIDL loans worth $11,090,000. 151 EIDL grant advances worth $726,000 have been approved. Funding remains available for both programs to help with payroll and fixed expenses during the coronavirus crisis. To learn more, visit the SBA PPP website. Download a PPP application here and apply before the June 30 deadline. EIDL applications can be downloaded here; and a step-by-step guide on the application process can be viewed here. EIDL applications are due by December 31.

Apply for long-term resident status

A virtual information session on how long-term residents can apply for permanent status in the Marianas will be held on Thursday, July 2, 2020 at 9 AM ChST. The permanent CNMI Resident status was created by my legislation, H.R. 559, enacted into law last year; and now a deadline for application is nearing: August 17. To qualify for the permanent status requires having resided continuously and lawfully in the Marianas from November 28, 2009 through June 25, 2019. Permanent residents may live and work in the Marianas as long as they choose without any further need for permits or renewals. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will host the information session and will respond to any questions that long-term residents may have about the application process. Please submit questions to Hawaii.CommunityRelations@uscis.dhs.gov no later than Monday, June 29. Click here to read the information session announcement and instructions how to log in. 

Workforce authors explain touchback

Marianas businesses should have flexibility when to send CW-1 workers home for the 30-day “touchback,” required by the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act. Four of us, who were members of the bipartisan, bicameral working group that wrote the legislation, submitted comment to the Department of Homeland Security Monday to make clear touchback could occur at any time before submission of an application for a fourth year, “to fit the touchback period into the business cycle in a manner that best meets [businesses’] human resource needs.” Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah), and I made the joint submission as part of the formal rule-making process. The Act says the employer of a CW-1 worker, who has been in the Marianas for three years, may not apply for a fourth, one-year work permit, until the worker has been outside of the United States for a 30-day period, but the Department’s Interim Final Rule is unclear on when this touchback must occur. The four of us, also, renewed our commitment to U.S. workers in the Marianas. Touchback, we wrote, “was intended to emphasize to employers the temporary nature of the Commonwealth-Only Transitional Worker (CW) program and further encourage that they hire U.S. workers, which is the underlying aim of the USWA.” Read our comment here.

Trump halts Marianas H workers 

Marianas employers’ unlimited access to workers with H visas was blocked by President Trump on Monday. The President issued Proclamation 10052 suspending entry of workers with H-1B, H-2B, L, and J visas nationwide, with some exceptions, citing the unemployment of U.S. workers caused by COVID-19. Unlimited access to H visa workers was an original provision of the 2008 Consolidated Natural Resources Act, which extended federal immigration to the Marianas. And I extended that special benefit through 2029 in the U.S. Workforce Act, Public Law 115-218. It was intended to make foreign workers available for specific temporary jobs, especially in construction, when there are not enough Commonwealth-only Transitional Worker, CW, permits and no U.S. workers. But unlimited H visas could also provide a new avenue for economic development in the Marianas, because U.S. firms that use H visas to hire high-tech workers from overseas regularly cannot get all the visas they want. This week’s proclamation does not apply to individuals who are already in the U.S. or had a visa valid as of June 24, 2020. Green card holders, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, workers for jobs essential to the food supply chain, or whose entry is in the national interest are exempted. CW permits are not affected.

Moving Forward on infrastructure

The Marianas receives new funding and increased grant eligibility in the $1.5 trillion Moving Forward Act, released Monday by House Democrats and scheduled for a floor vote next week. The Act includes the five-year authorization of surface transportation programs approved by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week and additional transformative investments in schools, water systems, housing, broadband, and health care infrastructure. Some highlights:

·     $500 million for the insular areas to construct, modernize, and renovate public school facilities,

·     $300 million to improve insular area childcare facilities,

·     $625 million for states and territories to develop and implement “digital equity” plans,

·     A $50 broadband benefit for low-income households,

·     $10 billion for the construction and modernization of our nation’s hospitals and medical facilities,

·     $10 billion for community health center capital grants,

·     $40 billion in new wastewater infrastructure,

·     A 1.5 percent set-aside in Clean Water State Revolving Funding for the insular areas, 

·     $70 billion for renewable energy systems,

·     $4 billion annually for Airport Improvement Program grants,

·     $100 million in annual Territorial Highway Funds, 

·     An increase of $400,000 for the Marianas bus transit system, and

·     Grant eligibility for the Marianas to develop and implement AMBER Alert notifications.

I am returning to Washington to speak on the floor next week in support of the Moving Forward Act.

Moving Forward amendments offered

Included in the 360 amendments filed so far with the Rules Committee on H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, are three of my amendments to improve infrastructure resources in the Marianas. The amendments would:

·     Codify the annual 1.5 percent set-aside of Safe Drinking Water Act funds for the insular areas. Current law authorizes only 0.33 percent. I have been able to work with appropriators each year since my first year in Congress to increase the territories’ share to 1.5 percent. Now I want that increase set in law and not subject to annual uncertainty.

·     Make ferry operations between U.S. territories eligible for funding from the Ferry Boat Formula Program and Territorial Highway Program. Current law permits use of program funds for ferry operations within a state or territory, between adjoining states, or between a state and Canada, but not between territories.

·     Provide the territories and the District of Columbia a state-share minimum of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration funds. If enacted into law, my amendment would provide the Marianas over $5 million more per year for wildlife and habitat restoration and sportfish projects.

I am also a cosponsor to two other proposed amendments to H.R. 2. One increases Territorial Highway program funds to $164.5 million from the current $42 million; another addresses offshore wind development and coral reef conservation in the territories. The Rules Committee meets Monday to decide which amendments can be debated on the floor.

How to safely reopen schools

As Chair of the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, I held a virtual briefing Tuesday to hear from experts on how our nation can safely reopen and rebuild schools impacted by COVID-19. I invited the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to speak on the findings in its report released this month on the troubling condition of America’s public school facilities. And Randi Weingarten, who leads the American Federation of Teachers, brought a teacher’s perspective to these challenges, and highlighted how the Reopen and Rebuild America’s School Act addresses these issues. The Act invests $500 million to repair and update schools in the Marianas and other insular areas. The House is scheduled to consider the bill next week as part of H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act infrastructure package. Watch the briefing here.

Prioritize student mental health

The mental health of students must be a priority as schools continue to navigate the coronavirus crisis and plan for the upcoming academic year. This week, I joined my colleagues Reps. Napolitano (D-CA) and Katko (R-NY) on a bipartisan letter urging house leadership to include H.R. 1109, the Mental Health Services for Students Act, in the next coronavirus package. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in five children have a diagnosable mental illness. I am an original cosponsor of H.R. 1109 which would provide $200 million in competitive grants for public schools to establish mental health services through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education). H.R. 6800, The HEROES Act, included $100 million for student mental health services through Project AWARE plus an additional $90 billion in state grants for schools. The Senate has not considered H.R. 6800 yet.

George Floyd justice bill passes House

Led by the Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday, the House passed H.R. 7120, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. I cosponsored this important legislation, which seeks to ensure equal justice for all Americans under the law through systemic change of law enforcement culture and by building trust between communities and law enforcement. The Act bans chokeholds, carotid holds, and no-knock warrants. It establishes use-of-force standards federal law enforcement must follow. And it conditions some funding for state and local law enforcement on jurisdictions adopting these federal bans and standards. The bill allows for civil damages when officers violate a person’s constitutional rights, establishes a registry to track police misconduct, and requires states and localities to comply with reporting requirements. Grants will help community-based organizations create local commissions to develop concrete, just, and equitable public safety policies. The George Floyd Act passed the House 236-181 and now heads to the Senate.

In the news: Career Education Act

Expanded education assistance for military spouses was featured in an article published by the Military Officers Association of America Tuesday. The Association is part of the 34-member Military Coalition, that supports H.R. 7112, my legislation that would help service member spouses get and keep professional licenses for occupations like nursing and teaching, even as their families move from place to place under military orders. Approximately one-third of all military spouses are in licensed occupations. My Military Spouse Career Education Act supports spouses by enabling faster completion of professional degrees and by easing the financial burden associated with getting relicensed after every time they relocate. Read the article here.

House admits DC as 51st state

Today, the House passed H.R. 51, admitting to the United States the new State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. I am an original co-sponsor of this bill that creates a 51st state and gives full voting representation in Congress to its people and full local self-government. The new state consists of 66 of the 68 square miles of the present-day District of Columbia, leaving intact the Capital area, including the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the principal federal monuments and offices that line the National Mall. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to admit new states in article IV, section 3, clause 1. All 37 states added to the original 13 were admitted by simple legislation, the last, Hawai’i and Alaska, in 1959. In 2016, 86 percent of residents of Washington voted for statehood and today’s action honors that request for full rights as U.S. citizens. H.R. 51 now goes before the Senate.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants

·     A note to those receiving or applying for federal grants during the coronavirus crisis: The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) may extend for up to 12 months certain grants set to expire between March 31 and December 31, 2020. OMB is also providing some deadline flexibility for grant applications. Check out these links for OMB’s March 9 and March 17 memo on these extensions.

·     NEH Care: Cultural Organization

Public Comments

·     Fishery data

·     Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver data

·     SRAE Program data

·     Marine mammals and testing 

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 7120 - George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (passed, 236-181)
  • H.R. 51 - Washington, D.C. Admission Act (passed, 232-180)

NEXT WEEK

Bills to be considered not ready at time of print.