THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - March 20, 2020

Mar 22, 2020

In this issue:

Paid leave, more Medicaid, food aid

Families First law signed

…and free testing

Small business, non-profit loans

At work in Washington

Third relief bill being drafted

Dislocated worker grants funded

$367k for unmet COVID-19 needs

Paying attention to schools

FCC: Beware COVID-19 scams

$4.3m for marine debris removal

$2.8m for coastal resilience

We are teleworking

• Kilili Time Capsule

• Opportunities

• Legislative highlights

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We must all do our part. Hand washing—frequently—can slow the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control recommends washing your hands the right way. CDC also warns to avoid social gatherings. Do your part to protect your health and the health of those around you. Find more information on the coronavirus on the CDC and CHCC websites.

Paid leave, more Medicaid, food aid

Families First law signed

Workers in the Marianas will get paid sick leave for themselves or to care for a family member, including children at home because of school closures. The Commonwealth will receive more Medicaid money to treat the ill. And more food aid will be available to help Marianas households that lose income due to lay-offs or hours reduction. These benefits are all included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed by the President on Wednesday.

  • Paid leave. The Act generally requires private employers with fewer than 500 employees and all government employers to provide employees with two workweeks of paid coronavirus-related leave. At the insistence of the Trump administration employers are to be reimbursed through a tax credit — a problem for cash-strapped small businesses.
  • More Medicaid. The Marianas receives $5.425 million over the next two years to add to the $120 million we appropriated in Public Law 116-94 in December. That law reduced the local match required for Medicaid from 45 to 17 percent. The Families First Act reduces the local match again, to 10.8 percent for the duration of the coronavirus emergency. These changes will help cover the costs of healthcare in the Marianas.
  • Food aid. As Marianas families lose income because of lay-offs and hours reductions, they will qualify for federal food programs. The Families First Act has a set-aside of $100 million for the Marianas, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico to supplement the local nutrition assistance programs. The Trump administration will decide how these funds are shared. Other food programs the Marianas uses receive extra funding — WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children: $500 million; the Commodity Assistance Program that assists food banks: $400 million; and Aging and Disability Services Programs that provide congregate meals and home delivery to seniors: $240 million and waiver of the local match. Food assistance is also authorized for children out of school for more than five days.

The Families First Act also makes coronavirus testing free for anyone, with or without insurance. (See next story.)

...and free testing

Coronavirus testing for anyone, with or without insurance, is now free thanks to the Families First Act. In the Marianas, however, and many areas of the country, there are limited supplies to take test samples from persons, who show symptoms of the disease. And, nationwide, laboratories are straining to analyze samples of suspected cases. Currently, samples from the Marianas are sent to Guam for analysis; and, thankfully, we remain without a confirmed case. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has stationed an Incident Management Assistance Team in the Marianas to help in this emergency and is working with the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation to develop local testing. The Commonwealth was awarded $370,000 last week from the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that can pay for testing equipment and supplies. More funding is available.

Third relief bill being drafted

The House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House are already preparing a third legislative response, as the coronavirus crisis deepens across our nation. I introduced legislation providing operating funds to the Commonwealth government on March 5 and think direct aid to states and insular areas, losing revenue because of the coronavirus, should be included in the next spending package. I support relief funding for airlines and other businesses critical to the tourism industry; so that, when tourists feel safe to travel, the infrastructure is still there. But service must be maintained nationwide, not just the most profitable routes and destinations. Also critical are direct payments from the federal government to individuals—everywhere in America—to make up for lost income, as businesses close and lay off workers. People need money in their pockets – for the sake of the economy and to take care of their families. Read my letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi here. These headline proposals and more details were also made part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus recommendations for Coronavirus 3.0.

$367k for unmet COVID-19 needs

The Northern Mariana Islands is receiving $366,900 in Technical Assistance Program grant funds for “Unmet Needs Resulting from Impacts of COVID-19,” the Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs announced Thursday. Funds will be used to procure personal protective equipment and hygienic supplies for government workers and others at risk of exposure to the virus. Technical assistance funds are a way to respond to needs in the insular areas more rapidly than through other federal agencies and programs. Congress appropriated $20.8 million for technical assistance in FY2020.

Paying attention to schools

As schools close in the Marianas and across America this week, I joined Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott to introduce the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act. H.R. 6275 has funding to help schools continue critical services for students in early childhood settings through high school, including nutritious meals, access to technology, and mental health services. The funding will allow schools to reopen more quickly after the crisis is past by covering the costs of sanitization and emergency staffing needs. Our bill gives increased flexibility for students with student loan obligations and eases the financial burden on current college students and their schools, which are struggling to respond to the coronavirus. To learn more about the bill, click here.

$4.3m for marine debris removal

The Mariana Islands Nature Alliance (MINA) and Pacific Coastal Research & Planning have been awarded grant funding to help in the removal and proper disposal of marine debris caused by Super Typhoon Yutu, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and NOAA announced Thursday. Funds are made possible by the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2019 (P.L. 116-20). Since funds are provided through emergency supplemental appropriations, there is no matching requirement.

  • MINA is receiving $2,467,302 to assess, remove, and dispose of marine debris in coastal areas of Tinian and Saipan to prevent further damage to coral reefs and other sensitive coastal habitats.
  • Pacific Coastal Research & Planning is receiving $1,800,000 to remove and dispose of a derelict fishing vessel, Lady Carolina, from a reef in the Saipan lagoon to prevent further reef damage to and allow it to recover.

$2.8m for coastal resilience

Three grants have been awarded to support natural and nature-based infrastructure in the Northern Marianas to help residents and wildlife recover from Super Typhoon Yutu, NOAA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced Tuesday. Congress provided the funding under the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2019 (P.L. 116-20) which was used to create the Emergency Coastal Resilience Fund. No matching funds are required for these grants.

  • $2,004,489 to the CNMI Office of Planning and Development to help restore 2.5 acres of wetlands and one acre of coral reefs benefiting over 250 species including endangered as well as economically important species, and establish a pipeline of projects to reduce flooding and pollutant runoff
  • $475,000 to Symbioseas, a nonprofit research management organization, to assess restoration need, restoration feasibility, and likelihood of short and long-term coral survivorship
  • $309,033 to Pacific Coastal Research & Planning to develop a Shoreline Master Plan for stabilization and enhancement of the Beach Road pathway on Saipan’s western coast

OPPORTUNITIES

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period