THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - March 15, 2019

Mar 18, 2019

In this issue:

• New homes free for Yutu survivors

• Equal access to disaster aid

• Prep now for extra disaster funds

• Reconnecting with EDA’s Iglesias

• Higher Education bill readied

• College for free

• Education is a bipartisan issue

• Supporting Close Up

• Trump slashes support for students

• Honoring Purple veterans

• Listening to veterans

• In defense of sharks

• Shark talk with Channel NewsAsia

• New USCIS liaison visits

• $854k for Prior Service

• USS Miguel Keith coming to Saipan

• Hello and goodbye, Olivia

• Opportunities

• Legislative Highlights

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New homes free for typhoon survivors

The deadline to opt-in for a no-cost, new home from FEMA is Friday, March 22. More than 900 families on Saipan and Tinian are eligible for either a complete new home or for repairs to their damaged dwelling. FEMA’s Permanent Housing Construction program has only been made available a handful of times in the agency’s history. The Marianas qualifies because of the scale of destruction from typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu and because of limited access to materials and labor. Eligible survivors who decide to take advantage of the program will end up with a typhoon-resistant home, built to standard, at no cost to themselves. FEMA will take care of labor, materials, permitting, and construction. I encourage all eligible survivors to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity for a safer, stronger home - and for greater peace of mind for the future. Eligible families should call 1-800-621-FEMA to opt-in.

Equal access to disaster aid

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 protects individuals in a federally declared disaster area from discrimination. If you think you have not been given equal access to services and benefits, contact FEMA’s Equal Rights Officers at 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585. If a phone call does not resolve the problem, you may file a written complaint with FEMA’s Office of Equal Rights, generally within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. Include your name and contact information, the name and address of the agency that committed the alleged discrimination, pertinent details of the allegation, and the names of any persons whom FEMA may contact to validate the allegations. Individuals who file discrimination complaints are also protected from retaliation, and should contact FEMA’s Typhoon Yutu Equal Rights Officer, Jubén Delgado-Dávila, (202) 341-3984 or juben.delgado-davila@fema.dhs.gov if they believe they are the victims of retaliation.

Prep now for extra disaster funds

Congress appropriated $1.7 billion for communities, like the Marianas, hit by natural disasters in 2018. There is another $1.2 billion in legislation the House passed in January and the Senate takes up later this month. The funds are called Community Development Block Grants-Disaster Recovery, or CDBG-DR. But unlike the Community Development Block Grants the Marianas and other states and territories receive annually, CDBG-DR funds require significant advance planning. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which qualified under Public Law 115-123, covering 2017 disasters, are just beginning to tap their CDBG-DR monies. 

I wrote Governor Ralph Torres this week to encourage his administration to begin preparing to meet the CDBG-DR requirements. The Commonwealth will have to submit a plan to use the funds for long-term recovery and restoration of infrastructure and housing and for economic revitalization. Websites will have to be built so the public can have full view of procurements and contracting. And the Commonwealth will have to have robust financial controls so that CDBG-DR funds are only used for needs not met by FEMA funding. This can all take as long as six months.

College for free

Get your application and placement fees waived and learn how to qualify for free tuition this Thursday at Northern Marianas College. NMC is hosting an information session for potential students from 5:30 to 6:30pm at the campus Library. Just by attending, your application and placement test fees for the Spring 2019 semester will be waived—a saving of up to $75. You will also learn how to pay for your college education with a Pell grant and other federal financial aid programs. I was one of the 22 original co-sponsors of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act that raised the dollar value of Pell grants for lower-income students and made more students eligible. As a result, today more than 90 percent of NMC’s students attend college for free. For more information, contact the NMC Office of Admissions and Records at 237-6768/6769/6771 or visit www.marianas.edu. To apply for federal financial aid online, use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa.

Supporting Close Up

Providing our young people with opportunities to learn about their government and become educated citizens is a priority of mine, so this week I joined my insular areas colleagues in writing to the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs in support of continued funding for the Close Up Program. Since 1988 Close Up has brought students from the Marianas to the nation’s capital for a first-hand experience with the federal government. The non-profit organization also conducts local youth summits that give our students an opportunity to express their own ideas and develop policy making skills. These programs make us all better and should continue to be a priority for the federal government.

Trump slashes support for students

On Monday, the Trump administration unveiled its budget request for Fiscal Year 2020 which would impose deep cuts to public education in the Marianas and across the country. Instead of expanding support for our nation’s schools, including those devastated by Super Typhoon Yutu, the Trump budget would steer over $50 billion away from these public school students to private and for-profit schools. College would be more expensive and less accessible under the Trump budget, too, with $200 billion cut from student loan forgiveness programs and other financial aid. Annual funding increases for PSS schools made possible by a new formula I had enacted in 2015 would be wiped out by the Trump budget. Fortunately, House Democrats, now in the majority, will prevent these damaging proposals from becoming law. We want to make college more affordable, and expand our Nation’s investment in quality public education. Read more about the Trump budget’s impact to students here.

$854k for Prior Service

The Prior Service Trust Fund will receive $853,590 in Technical Assistance Program funds that will be distributed to former employees of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the Office of Insular Affairs announced Wednesday. Beneficiaries are former employees from the Northern Marianas and the now Freely Associated States who served for at least five years under the U.S. Administration in the Pacific until the TTPI was dissolved in 1986. They receive small monthly checks in varying amounts to help meet everyday needs. The United States must continue to meet its commitment to these former employees for their service. Congress makes annual appropriations to the Technical Assistance Program, $20.8 million in FY 2019.

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OPPORTUNITIES

Jobs:

Public Comments:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H. Con. Res. 24 - Expressing the sense of Congress that the report of Special Counsel Mueller should be made available to the public and to Congress (Passed, 420-0)
  • H.Res. 206 – Acknowledging that the lack of sunlight and transparency in financial transactions and corporate formation poses a threat to our national security and our economy’s security and supporting efforts to close related loopholes (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1122 – Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration Act of 2019 (Passed, 387-22)
  • H.R. 974 – Federal Reserve Supervision Testimony Clarification Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1414 – FinCEN Improvement Act of 2019 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 758 – Cooperate with Law Enforcement Agencies and Watch Act of 2019 (Passed, 404-7)
  • H.Res. 156 – Calling for accountability and justice for the assassination of Boris Nemtsov (Passed, 416-1)
  • H.R. 596 – Crimea Annexation Non-recognition Act (Passed, 427-1)
  • H.R. 1404 – Vladimir Putin Transparency Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1617 – KREMLIN Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1582 – Electronic Message Preservation Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1608 – Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2019 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1654 – Federal Register Modernization Act (Passed, 426-1)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.R. 5 - To prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and for other purposes.
  • H.R. 6 - To authorize the cancellation of removal and adjustment of status of certain aliens, and for other purposes
  • H.R. 1454 - To provide for a 3-day waiting period before a person may receive a handgun, with exceptions
  • H.R. 1585 - To reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, and for other purposes.
  • H.R. 1644 - To restore the open internet order of the Federal Communications Commission.
  • H.R. 1688 - To help provide relief to State education budgets during a recovering economy, to help fulfill the Federal mandate to provide higher educational opportunities for Native American Indians, and for other purposes
  • H.R. 1707 - To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to provide for the refinancing of certain Federal student loans, and for other purposes. 

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.