THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - March 11, 2022

Mar 13, 2022

_________________________________________________________

Marianas community projects: $4.5m

Northern Marianas College, the Public School System, Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation, Karidat, and the Judicial branch are all receiving community project funds that I added to the fiscal 2022 appropriation passed by the House Wednesday and the Senate Thursday. Nine of the 10 projects—worth $4,527,533—I requested were included in the spending bill. House appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has promised funds will quickly be available when President Biden signs the legislation. This year for the first time since 2010 it was decided to allow Members to direct money to specific organizations and purposes in our home districts. I want to thank the College, PSS, and all the organizations that submitted proposals to me. Nine out of 10 are being funded this year because of the high quality of those project proposals. And we are already compiling project ideas from the Marianas community to submit to appropriators in the coming weeks for funding in fiscal 2023.

 

Low Medicaid match extended

In addition to the earmarks for Rota dialysis and laboratory modernization and electronic record-keeping at the Commonwealth hospital, the FY22 spending bill will improve health in the Marianas by keeping the local match for federal Medicaid at 17 percent. This is lower than every state, except Mississippi. We first set the rate at 17 percent in U.S. Public Law 116-94 two years ago. Without this week’s extension the local match would more than double to 38.8 percent, costing the Commonwealth about $28 million. USPL 116-94 also increased the legal limit for federal Medicaid to the Marianas from about $6 million to $60 million with annual cost adjustments. For the current fiscal year Marianas Medicaid is $64,010,000, enough to provide health insurance for over 15,000 people.

More money for water, sewer

Equally important for health in the FY22 appropriation is a continuation of a 1.5 percent set-aside for the Marianas and other insular areas from Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act funds administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. I have been able to raise the set-aside for our areas to 1.5 percent in annual appropriations since 2010, even though statutorily we are eligible for only 0.25 percent and 0.33 percent respectively from the two laws. This set-aside has already brought us over $102 million. The additional $7.2 million from this week’s bill will help us reach our goal of drinkable water in every household within five years.

$30m more for NAP

The FY22 spending bill also raises funding for the Commonwealth’s Nutrition Assistance Program, NAP to $30 million. Last October, about 2,000 more families became eligible for food assistance and benefits increased 23 percent because of the $30 million I included in the American Rescue Plan for Marianas food aid, demonstrating the real need for that level of funding. For a family of four on Saipan the monthly benefit maximum rose to $1,231, on Rota and the Northern Islands $1,498, and on Tinian $1,301. This put Marianas benefits higher than in the contiguous 48 U.S. States, the District of Columbia, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, but our costs are higher, too. The $30 million in FY22 funding Congress approved this week should allow benefits to continue at that new level.

Pell grants up $400

Pell grants will rise $400 for some 900 students at Northern Marianas College because of the FY22 appropriation. Students will be eligible for up to $6,895 in academic year 2022-2023. Over 80 percent of Northern Marianas College students receive the maximum Pell grant, College officials told me at a meeting in Washington in February, making this federal tuition assistance of major importance to the overall financial health of NMC. Marianas public elementary and secondary schools will see an increase of approximately six percent for fiscal year 2022 as a result of the FY22 appropriation.

Violence Against Women Act renewed

The omnibus appropriation for fiscal 2022 was also used as a vehicle this week to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act for the first time since 2013. The new authorization provides some $500 million in grants to address domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking, crimes of which women are most often the victims. VAWA has been reauthorized three times since its original enactment in 1994, but lapsed in 2019.

$1.5m more to hire the out-of-work

The Commonwealth’s Workforce Investment Agency is receiving a supplemental award of up to $1.5 million to hire persons who lost their jobs because of the pandemic for humanitarian assistance positions, the U.S. Department of Labor announced this week. This National Dislocated Worker Grant is funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and is in addition to $1.5 million already received by the Commonwealth in April 2020. $800,000 from the supplemental award is being released initially to pay workers to deliver medicine, food, and supplies to the elderly or to clean and sanitize public schools and health facilities. The money can also be used for training. Congratulations to the Workforce Investment Agency!

Sanctuary comment period extended

The public comment period for the review of the Mariana Trench National Marine Sanctuary nomination has been extended by 45 days, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries announced Thursday. In March 2017, as Governor Torres and I requested, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was officially included in the national inventory for potential sanctuary designation, after NOAA agreed it met national significance criteria and management considerations. After five years on the inventory, NOAA has yet to initiate a designation process and the nomination is set to expire. The five-year review will determine if the nomination continues to meet the 11 criteria on national significance and should remain on the inventory. NOAA is now accepting public comments to gather new or updated information up to April 25, 2022. For details on ways to submit comment, go to https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2022-05114/p-5. For more information about the sanctuary nomination and five-year review process, visit nominate.noaa.gov.

Watershed assessment comment sought

The Northern Marianas Draft Emergency Supplemental Watershed Study prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now available for public review and comment. The post-disaster watershed assessment developed for the entire Marianas is the product of $1.5 million I made available in the 2019 Supplemental Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, Public Law 116-20. The watershed assessment provides recommendations geared to help rehabilitate and improve the resiliency of damaged infrastructure and natural resources, reducing risks to human life and property from future natural hazards. The deadline to submit comments is April 15, 2022. To submit comments, or learn more about draft Marianas Watershed Management Plan, visit https://www.poh.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Civil-Works-Projects/CNMI-DRAFT-Post-Disaster-Watershed-Plan-March-2022/.

Social Security tax data online

Social Security recipients may find it useful to get your benefit statement online, as you prepare to file your 2021 income tax return. You should have received in the mail a paper copy of your SSA-1099, showing the total amount of Social Security benefits you  received in 2021. If you did not or it was lost or stolen you can get a replacement online at www.ssa.gov/myaccount/replacement-SSA-1099.html. The benefit statement is not available for people who only receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments because SSI payments are not taxed.

Puerto Rican to lead Insular Affairs

The White House announced today the nomination of Ambassador Carmen G. Cantor to be the Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs in the Department of Interior. She currently serves as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federated States of Micronesia, having been nominated in 2019 by President Trump. Cantor is originally from Puerto Rico and has a long history of federal service. She earned a B.A. from the University of Puerto Rico and an M.A. from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico. She must now be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The Assistant Secretary is responsible for federal relations with the Marianas, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and oversees federal assistance to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

Help is here: Rescue Plan enacted

House Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan Act on Wednesday and President Biden signed the bill into law on Thursday afternoon.

VA Commitee reviews Choice

Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin and Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) testified at my first hearing as a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. The purpose was to review the Choice Program, which allows veterans, like those in the Marianas, who live far from regular VA facilities, to get health services from local doctors.

National Park Service renews support for Rota national park bill

The Rota Cultural and Natural Resources Study Act was one of only two bills that the National Park Service supported during today’s hearing by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on National Parks. The Park Service had also testified in favor of the bill, H.R. 1141,during a hearing in the House of Representatives last year.

Grants:

 

Public Comments:

 

 

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 5615 - Homeland Security Capabilities Preservation Act (passed by voice vote)
  • H.R. 5616 - DHA Basic Training Accreditation Improvement Act (passed, 390 - 33)
  • H.Res. 881 - Condemning the heinous attack on Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, on Jan. 15, 2022 (passed by voice vote)
  • H.R. 6968 - Suspending Energy Imports from Russia Act (passed, 414-17)
  • H.R. 2471 - Consolidated Appropriation Act (passed, 249-180)

NEXT WEEK

  • H.R. 560 - Northern Mariana Islands Residents Relief Act
  • H.R. 2899 - To direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study to assess the suitability and feasibility of designating areas within the island of Guam as a National Heritage Area
  • H.R. 963 - FAIR Act
  • H.R. 2116 - CROWN Act
  • H.R. 6434 - Japanese American WWII History Network