THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - October 11, 2019

Oct 15, 2019

In this issue:

 •  Torres’ goal: 500 more US workers

$2.6M for Medicaid — no local match

Vets Committee sees island reality

Loan fee refunds for Vets

Hagibis aid for Marianas ok’d

1.6% COLA for Social Security

Medicare enrollment opens 10/15

Kilili Time Capsule • Opportunities

• Opportunities

Legislative highlights

____________________________________________________________________________

Torres’ goal: 500 more US workers

The $2.5 million in training fees paid by employers of CW workers this year should place 500 more U.S. workers into the labor force, according to the spending plan submitted by Governor Ralph Torres in June and approved by the U.S. Department of Labor on September 19. The U.S. Workforce Act, which I wrote into law last year, requires the annual spending plan and a report to  Congress, received this week, to ensure the training funds are used effectively to put U.S. workers in jobs. The Governor’s plan gives $1 million each to the Northern Marianas Trades Institute and Northern Marianas College. $200,000 goes to the CNMI Department of Labor for administrative costs and $300,000 “to provide opportunities to fund training programs relevant to the advancement of US workers within the CNMI labor force.” Fees may fall short of the projected $2.5 million, however, as only 12,152 CW permits had been issued as of September 29 (yielding $2.43 million), according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The U.S. Workforce Act also requires the Governor to report by November 2 the ratio between U.S. and other worker based on income tax filings.

$2.6M for Medicaid — no local match

No local match will be required for the remaining $2.6 million of the Mariana’s Obamacare Medicaid money. We have been working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to clarify this is the correct reading of the FY20 Continuing Resolution signed into law on September 30; and CMS agreed today. In addition, to this $2.6 million from §1323 of the Affordable Care Act, the Marianas’ annual Medicaid block grant of $6.9 million can also be spent without a local match at least through November 21, when the continuing resolution lapses. This is a welcome stopgap, but our goal remains a long-term solution to the inequitable treatment of U.S. insular areas under the Medicaid program. During this congressional break, the House continued negotiations with the Senate on H.R. 2328. This bipartisan House bill would provide $360 Million for Marianas Medicaid over six years. No local match is required in the first two years; and in year six the match is set to the most generous for any U.S. state—76 percent federal/24 percent local.

Loan fee refunds for Vets

Disabled veterans nationwide, overcharged as much as $19,000 in home loan fees, are now eligible for refunds. An Inspector General investigation, earlier this year, found the Department of Veterans Affairs owes $286.4 million in refunds to veterans; and along with colleagues on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee I urged Secretary Wilkie to come up with a plan to make these veterans whole. On Tuesday, the VA announced that it had identified over 130,000 loans, where fees were wrongly assessed, and set up a toll-free number (877.827.3702) for veterans to find out if they are due a refund. In creating the VA home loan program to help veterans successfully transition to civilian life, Congress specifically exempted veterans with service-connected disabilities from paying fees. The VA needs to follow the law.

Hagibis aid for Marianas ok’d

Thanks to President Trump for responding quickly to the Commonwealth’s request for an emergency declaration, as Super Typhoon Hagibis bore down on us. Monday, Acting Governor Arnold Palacios submitted the formal requestwhich I supported; and the President issued the declaration that afternoon. While our islands were spared major damage from Super Typhoon Hagibis, unlocking this initial federal aid to help Marianas first responders prepare for and respond to the storm put us ahead of the game. An emergency declaration makes up to $5 million in federal resources immediately available to support debris removal, air transportation, and shelters to save lives and protect property.

1.6% COLA for Social Security

The 3,056 Marianas retirees receiving Social Security and the 1,018 receiving Supplemental Security Income will see a 1.6 percent cost of living increase for 2020. The estimated average monthly benefit for retired workers will go from $1,479 to $1,503. The maximum monthly SSI payment will increase from $771 to $783 for individuals and from $1,157 to $1,175 for couples. The higher payments will begin in January 2020 for Social Security beneficiaries and on December 31, 2019 for SSI beneficiaries. These increases are intended to keep pace with the cost of goods and services. Together the two programs put $32.5 million into the Marianas economy.

Medicare enrollment opens 10/15

Medicare enrollment opens 10/15

For those with Medicare insurance now is the time to decide whether to change your current health or prescription drug plans or keep what you have. The Medicare open enrollment period begins October 15 and ends December 7. Costs, coverage, and which doctors or pharmacies are in your insurance network can shift from year to year. Open enrollment is when you can look at whether the plans you have still meet your needs, and make changes, if you want to. To review 2020 health and drug plans, compare coverage options, or to estimate Medicare costs, go to Medicare.gov.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants

 
Public Comments

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.
NEXT WEEK
 
  • H.R. 1815 – SEC Disclosure Effectiveness Act
  • H.R 3624 – Outsourcing Accountability Act of 2019