THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - June 28, 2019

Jul 1, 2019

In this issue:

USCIS extends parole

Up to 1,039 saved from deportation

Marianas art at the Capitol

Marianas’ funding in mini-bus #2

Federal funding keeps rising

$2.6m for Rota airport fencing

Tracking disaster funding

More assistance for schools needed

SBA disaster loan deadline: 7/26

GAO: Marianas debt fell 2015-17

Election integrity passes House

Teachers work through summer

Finding drugs to target vets’ ills

Restoring our national parks

Standing up for workers

Using religion for politics?

Scholarships to study abroad

Girl Scouts work in Congress

Opportunities

Legislative Highlights

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USCIS extends parole

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service announced late this afternoon that humanitarian parole would be extended for all persons in the Marianas for whom parole was ended on December 27, 2018. These former parolees are covered by U.S. Public Law 116-24, signed by the President on Tuesday, and could now be eligible for permanent resident status in the Marianas. Extending their parole allows these individuals to remain lawfully present in the Marianas while USCIS sets up a process for them to apply for permanent residence under terms of the new law. The parole extension runs through October 28, 2019. Parolee employment authorizations are also being automatically extended for that period of time. See the announcement from USCIS here.

 

Up to 1,039 saved from deportation

President Donald Trump has signed my bill giving Marianas-only permanent resident status to as many as 1,039 people now living in the islands. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi enrolled H.R. 559 and Clerk of the House Cheryl Johnson reported mid-afternoon on Tuesday that she had presented it to the President. By 7 p.m. that evening the White House called confirming the Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act was now Public Law 116-24. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 1,039 individuals living in the Marianas under humanitarian parole could qualify for the new permanent status. They would have been forced to leave the Marianas, if my bill had not been enacted. USCIS told me there were over 800 spouses and parents of U.S. citizens with humanitarian parole as of December 14, 2018. And 50 in-home caregivers, 5 persons born in the Marianas before the Covenant citizenship provisions went into effect, and persons who had been given permanent resident status under Commonwealth law in the early 1980s could also get the new permanent status. I am very grateful to those in the Marianas, in the federal government, and here in Congress, who helped make this success possible.

 

Marianas’ funding in minibus #2

On Tuesday, the House passed H.R. 3055, the Fiscal Year 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science, Agriculture, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act with increases for programs that benefit the Marianas. Highlights of the $380 billion “mini-bus” include:

  • My amendment that ensures that the Marianas Nutritional Assistance Program has enough funding so household income eligibility standards and benefit levels currently in place for FY 2019 are kept in place throughout FY 2020.
  • $12 million I requested to help lower electricity costs in the Marianas and other insular areas through aggressive application of the Energizing Insular Communities grant program.
  • Renewal of the 1.5 percent set-asides for the insular areas in Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act funds. The statutory set-asides are 0.25 and 0.33 percent, respectively. The increase, which I started during my first term in Congress, has resulted in $78 million for the Marianas through FY 2019 and brought 24-hour water to most Saipan households.
  • A $250,000 increase for the Marianas under the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Grant programs.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

 

$2.6m for Rota airport fencing

The Commonwealth Ports Authority is receiving $2,606,400, the Federal Aviation Authority announced on Monday. The grant funds will be used to install 20,625 feet of perimeter fencing at the Benjamin Taisacan Manglona International Airport in Rota. Congratulations to CPA.

Tracking disaster funding

Some of the $36 million in Medicaid funding I included for the Marianas in the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, Public Law 116-20, is already making its way to healthcare providers. The CNMI Department of Finance is currently processing $11.6 million of the initial $14.3 million that we reported in last week’s e-kilili. Most of the funding is being paid to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation. St. Jude Renal Care, Marianas Health Services, the Seventh Day Adventist Clinic, Marianas Eye Institute, and Saipan Health Clinic are also being paid. The disaster funding requires no local match.

More assistance for schools needed

Schools in the Marianas and across the country are still recovering from the damage of the past year’s natural disasters, but FEMA funds only allow for schools to rebuild back to the school’s original state. This is why I joined my colleagues in sending a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee to request the inclusion in its disaster tax package of Zero-Interest Tax Credit Bonds that allow for 40-year financing for disaster recovery rather than the traditional 20 years. These bonds can help lower costs to communities like the Marianas to build new school structures that can resist flooding, survive typhoons, and other catastrophes.

SBA disaster loan deadline: 7/26

Marianas’ small businesses considering a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) have until July 26, 2019 to apply, according to the SBA Disaster Field Operations Center West. Small nonfarm businesses, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations of any size are eligible to apply for up to $2 million. Funds can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, and other bills that cannot be paid due to the impact of Super Typhoon Yutu. Interest rates are 3.675 percent for businesses and 2.5 percent for private nonprofit organizations with terms up to 30 years. SBA sets loan amounts and terms based on each applicant’s financial condition. To apply, go to https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela, call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955, or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. Individuals who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing may call (800) 877-8339.

GAO: Marianas debt fell 2015-17

Northern Marianas public debt continued to decrease in 2016 and 2017, according to findings of the U.S. Government Accountability Office released on Friday. The GAO reports that due to the growing economy experienced in 2016 and 2017 the Commonwealth government decreased public debt from 16 to 8 percent of GDP. General revenues increased by 48 percent from 2015 to 2017, and government operated with a surplus. The report cautioned, however, that revenue reductions due to Typhoons Yutu and Mangkhut and pension liabilities pose financial risks. We all know the improved economic activity unfortunately does not continue – tourism is down, revenues have fallen, PSS personnel salaries were cut, and government hours are shortened. And while the report notes that the CNMI has not issued any new debt since 2007, that may end with reports this week of the Marianas Public Land Trust $15 million loan to the government. Congress required GAO to review the public debt of each of the five U.S. territories every two years in P.L. 114-187. GAO issued the first report in October 2017.

Election integrity passes House

Securing America’s federal elections is the purpose of the SAFE Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday. I am a cosponsor of the measure. Section 113 fulfills my long-standing goal to define the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as a “state” in the Help America Vote Act, and makes the Commonwealth eligible for new grants to ensure the integrity of our elections. This is especially timely given this month’s report by the Office of the Public Auditor that there are problems with Marianas election procedures. The report found the Commonwealth Election Commission was unable to account fully for ballots received from the printer and for the total used and unused at polling places. Absentee ballots were not always handled as required by law. The SAFE Act provides hundreds of millions in grant funds to upgrade and maintain vote counting machines. Inclusion in HAVA means grants to insure strong chain of custody procedures for ballots—one of the weaknesses the Marianas Public Auditor uncovered in this month’s audit.

 

Restoring our national parks

The Natural Resources Committee overwhelmingly approved the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act on Wednesday to help deal with the constant lack of funding needed to maintain our national parks. I am a cosponsor of Ranking Member Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) bipartisan bill, H.R. 1225, that establishes the National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund to address the massive deferred maintenance backlog at national parks, including our American Memorial Park, and on other public lands. We are all entrusted to use our public lands responsibly today, and to conserve them for the use of those who come after us. Funds will be directed to the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Education to help address the distressing conditions at many schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education. The bill now awaits a vote on the House Floor.

Standing up for workers

Changing the way employers are held accountable for wage theft and other violations would seriously undermine worker protections under a Trump Administration proposal to drastically narrow who workers who have multiple employers can hold liable for these violations. So, I joined other Members of Congress in sending a letter to Labor Secretary Alex Acosta opposing the Trump Administration’s proposal to narrow joint employment liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Those threatened by this proposed change include workers for franchise businesses who are employed by both the franchisee and franchisor. At a time when the U.S. Department of Labor found multiple labor violations in the Marianas in recent years, we cannot allow this proposal to happen.

 

Scholarships to study abroad

Study abroad in Europe, Asia, or South America. High school students of the Marianas can apply for full or partial scholarship for the summer or up to a full academic year in study abroad programs run by the U.S. Department of State. Students aged 15-18 will be able to fully immerse in the language and culture of different countries across the globe. For more information on these study abroad opportunities go to exchanges.state.gov/highschool.

 

OPPORTUNITIES

Jobs:

Grants:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 2722 – Securing America’s Federal Elections Act (Passed 225-184)
  • H.Res. 466 – Providing for consideration of the Senate amendment to the bill (H.R. 3401) making emergency supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2019 (Passed 305-102)
  • H.R. 3351 – Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2020 (Passed 224-196)
  • H.R. 3055 – Commerce, Justice, Science, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, 2020 (Passed 227-194)

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.