THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - March 23, 2018

Mar 25, 2018

In this issue: 

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$1.3 trillion spending bill passes

Congress enacted a $1.3 trillion omnibus appropriations law today that funds the federal government through September 30, 2018. We kept funding steady or even increased for many federal programs President Trump wanted to cut back or eliminate. Many are important to the Marianas and on my priorities list submitted to the Appropriations Committee, including:

  • A slight increase in Title I education money, preserving the improved formula for island schools I wrote in the Every Student Succeeds Act;
  • Increases for school-based violence protection, special education and the maximum Pell Grant award;
  • $14.4 million for the Office of Insular Affairs Assistance to Territories;
  • Saving the National Endowment for the Humanities from elimination;
  • An increase for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program;
  • Rejecting a 20 percent cut for the Department of Labor, ensuring OSHA’s worker health and safety programs continue, bolstering apprenticeship programs. and protecting senior community service programs;
  • Preserved the 1.5 percent set-aside in water and sewer grants for the Marianas and other insular areas that we began in 2010, and adds another $600 million for the programs nationwide;
  • Increases in funding for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, the HOME Investment Partnerships; and the Community Development Block Grants for which territories receive a set-aside;
  • Violence Against Women Prevention and Prosecution funding was increased $10.6 million over FY2017 to $492 million, as were other Justice Department programs: $410 million for Legal Services Corporation, a $25 million increase; $149.5 million for the COPS Hiring Program, $12.5 million more than last year; and $416 million for Byrne-JAG program, a $5 million increase; and
  • $12.9 million for the Air Force divert airfield project. Together with money appropriated last year, the Air Force will have $21.9 million to lease the 142 hectares needed on the north side of Tinian airport.

See the text of the 2,232 page bill and explanatory reports and documents here.

Trump CW cut harmful, unnecessary

The Trump administration announced Tuesday it stands by its decision to cut the CW cap for FY 2019 to 4,999. The Trump decision will hurt the Marianas economy and threatens U.S. worker jobs. And it is totally unnecessary. Current law requires the cap to be lower each year. The FY2018 cap was 9,999. The Trump administration could have cut by one—as I recommended and as Obama did—to 9,998. Instead, they chose to cut 5,000 workers our economy needs. The decision ignores progress we are making in Congress on the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act (H.R. 4869 and S. 2325). That bill, which I developed over an 18-month period with a bicameral, bipartisan working group, actually increases the FY2019 cap to 13,000. The Workforce Act, also, addresses the competition that employers face when renewing CW permits. Rather than a lottery system, as the Trump administration has now decided is fair, my bill allows employers renewing CW permits to submit applications 60 days before new applicants. This way, legacy employers go to the head of the line for permit approval. The Trump administration has made harmful and unnecessary decisions regarding the CW program. I will continue to work for passage of the U.S. Workforce Act, so our businesses and the Marianas economy have the workers we need.

Use food stamp funds to feed needy

The Commonwealth government is sitting on $22.5 million in food stamp money that should be helping the elderly, children, and families in the Marianas. Having so much unspent also hurts my effort to get us more money for food assistance in the farm bill that Congress is negotiating right now. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the unspent funds to me this week—and to the congressional negotiators. In the Agricultural Act of 2014 I added $32.5 million for the Marianas nutrition assistance program, above and beyond our $12 million annual block grant. But at the current rate of spending, USDA says, that money will not be used up until 2024. The Commonwealth is not even spending all its annual block grant. My goal is to get the Marianas included in the national program, SNAP. On Guam, which is in SNAP, a family of four gets help with an income up to $31,980. In the Marianas, the same family gets cut off, if it earns more than $17,412. The Commonwealth needs to make more families eligible and raise benefits. The money is there.

Non-spending blocks more road funds

The Federal Highway Administration informs me they will not increase highway funds because the Commonwealth is slow to spend what it already has. Shortly after President Trump was sworn in, Delegate Amata Aumua Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa) and I wrote to FHWA Acting Administrator Brandye Hendrickson asking that she change the formula used to allocate Territorial Highway Program funds. Set in 1992, the current formula gives Guam and the Virgin Islands 80 percent of the THP money. American Samoa and the Marianas split the other 20 percent. Based on any objective measure – population, road miles, or land area – we should be getting more. FHWA responded – as had the Obama administration – that they are unwilling to give more highway money to the Marianas because of slow spending. The Commonwealth expenditure rate is 48 percent. Guam’s is 78 percent. At the end of FY2017 the Commonwealth had $5.8 million unobligated. Guam had zero. I sent this information to Governor Torres, expressing my appreciation of the hard work of the Department of Public Works. But, if we want more federal help, we have to use what we have. If Guam can do it, so can the Commonwealth. 

Library of Congress offers app grant

The Library of Congress is offering up to $950,000 to one or more organizations to develop engaging web- and mobile-based applications on the subjects of Congress and civics for use in K-12 classrooms. Click here for more information.

$2.5M for conservation, outdoor rec

Conservation and outdoor recreation projects in the Marianas got a boost this week with an announcement of $2,501,621 in funding. The money, to be distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is derived from excise taxes paid by the boating, angling and hunting industries nationwide under the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Restoration Acts. The funds will help protect wildlife and habitat and can be used for projects that benefit public use such as boat access development and maintenance. 

OPPORTUNITIES 

Public Comments:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS 

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 1625 – Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 (Passed, 256-167)
  • H.R. 4467 – Strengthening Aviation Security Act of 2018 (Passed, 408-0)
  • H.R. 5089 – Strengthening Local Transportation Security Capabilities Act of 2018 (Passed, 397-1)
  • H.R. 5131 – Surface Transportation Security Improvement Act of 2018 (Passed, 409-5)
  • H.R. 4227 – Vehicular Terrorism Prevention Act of 2018 (Passed, 417-2)
  • H.R. 4566 – Alleviating Stress Test Burdens to Help Investors Act (Passed, 395-19)
  • H.R. 5247 – Trickett Wendler, Frank Mongiello, Jordan McLinn, and Matthew Bellina Right to Try Act of 2018 (Passed, 267-149)
  • S. 2030 – Ceiling fan Energy Conservation Harmonization Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 5074 – DHS Cyber Incident Response Teams Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 4176 – Air Cargo Security Improvement Act of 2018 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 5099 – Enhancing DHS’ Fusion Center Technical Assistance Program Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 5079 – DHS Field Engagement Accountability Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 4851 – Kennedy-King National Commemorative Site Act (Passed, 391-0)

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.