THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - May 15, 2021

May 16, 2021

In this issue:

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Rescue Plan $482m available now

$481,876,521 from the American Rescue Plan’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds are now available for the Northern Mariana Islands. The U.S. Treasury announced the allocation of funds on Monday and opened the application portal. Congress appropriated $4.5 billion for the U.S. insular areas in the Rescue Plan on March 11. Half the money was divided evenly among the five areas, the other half was divided by population, a formula very favorable to the Marianas.

Treasury also issued expanded guidance on how the money can be used to replace government revenue lost because of the pandemic. This will allow Commonwealth employees to be paid and continue to provide public services. Funds may also be used to provide job training and other assistance to unemployed workers, and direct aid to families facing food, housing, and other financial insecurity.

Small businesses, particularly those in travel and tourism, may be given loans, grants, and counseling to help their recovery. Investment in water and sewer projects that align with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which the Commonwealth receives, are allowed.

And broadband infrastructure can be built out to meet the standard of 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload speeds. Direct aid to households to support internet access at these speeds is another eligible use of the American Rescue Plan grant to the Commonwealth.

$1.4m in airport improvement grants

The Commonwealth Ports Authority is receiving $1,388,888 in FY2021 Airport Improvement Program funds for infrastructure and safety projects, the FAA announced Thursday. $1 million of the grant award will be used to conduct a new pavement management study for Saipan, Rota, and Tinian International Airports. A second project, worth $388,888, will prepare an airport safety management system manual and implementation plan that meets FAA requirements.

A portion of the AIP grants is provided by the American Rescue Plan Act that included $8 billion to be awarded as economic assistance to eligible airports to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Congratulations to CPA.

$300k for Garapan cleanup

The Marianas is receiving $300,000 for assessment and cleanup of the Lower West Takpochao Planning Area in Garapan, the Environmental Protection Agency announced. The Marianas is one of 151 communities nationwide receiving a Brownfields Multipurpose, Assessment, and Cleanup grant.

The money can be used to assess and clean contaminated and abandoned industrial and commercial properties. EPA says residential properties near brownfield sites have been shown to increase in value by 5% to 15.2% as a result of cleanup activities.

$2.4m for CHCC vaccination work

The Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation is receiving $2,383,674 to pay for personnel costs related to administration of the COVID-19 vaccines, the Federal Emergency Management Agency informed your congressional office. The funds are intended to cover 100 percent of the money CHCC pays staff from May 12, 2021 through August 12, 2021.

FEMA obligates the funds directly to the Commonwealth government, which is then responsible for conveying the money to the Healthcare Corporation. Congratulations to CHCC, which to date has received $3,612,310.27 under the pandemic major disaster declaration.

Rejecting the “Insular Cases”

Addressing America’s legacy of racism is the purpose of H. Res. 279, the “Insular Cases Resolution,” and the reason for Wednesday’s hearing on the bill. The bipartisan resolution, introduced by Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), places the House of Representatives on record as rejecting the racist reasoning of the Insular Cases – a series of Supreme Court decisions made beginning in 1901 concerning the constitutional rights afforded to residents in U.S. overseas territories.

For over a century, these rulings have been used to block equal treatment under the law and access to essential federal programs for the people in the U.S. insular areas. They are long overdue to be overturned. This must be done, however, as I explained in my opening statement, with respect for each territory.

The Insular Cases have been used to preserve the local Matai culture in American Samoa, for instance, and to justify the restrictions on land ownership in Article XII of the Northern Marianas Constitution. But given recent rulings on the illegitimacy of policies based on racial classifications and given the conservative makeup of the current judiciary, reliance on the Insular Cases to defend Article XII seems unwise.

One of the hearing witnesses, former Saipan resident, Professor Rose Cuison-Villazor shared that assessment. Watch our exchange here.

H-2B policy update

On Thursday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued new guidance to implement the H-2B exemptions for certain projects in the Northern Marianas and Guam. Section 9502 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021 (Public Law 116-283) allows employers to petition for H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers without having to demonstrate that the service or labor is temporary if the project supports or is adversely affected by the military buildup.

 All other H-2B requirements must be met. The policy applies to H-2B petitions requesting employment start dates on or before December 31, 2023. Employers seeking to file under the updated policy are encouraged to visit the H-2B page and policy guidance on the USCIS website.

Biometrics suspended for some

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the temporary suspension of the biometrics requirements through May 17, 2023  for certain nonimmigrants filing the I -539, Application to Extend /Change Nonimmigrant Status.

The temporary suspension applies to five classifications including E-2 CNMI Investors and L-2 nonimmigrants, who have a pending I-539 as of May 17, 202 and have not received a biometrics appointment, or who submit new applications on or after  May 17, 2021. Go to the USCIS website for additional information and requirements.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants:

Public Comments:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 2547 - Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act (passed, 215-207)
  • H.R. 586 - STANDUP Act of 2021 (passed under suspension)
  • H.R. 2955 - Suicide Prevention Act (passed under suspension)
  • H.R. 721 - Mental Health Services for Students Act (passed under suspension)
  • H.R. 958 - Protecting Moms Who Served Act (passed by voice vote)

NEXT WEEK