THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - September 20, 2019

Sep 23, 2019

In this issue:

  • Disaster funding update
  • 100% Medicaid funding continues
  • Dems back lower drug prices
  • House protects NMC funding
  • Elevating the education profession
  • Supporting seniors, school safety
  • Permanent residence bill okayed
  • TLCs for 4,998 workers approved
  • 1,484 CW extensions accepted
  • Shark fin bill has 236 cosponsors
  • Conservation grants awarded
  • Hearing set on U.S. and Pacific
  • House passes Purple Heart Coin Act
  • Justice grants top $1.2M
  • Kilili Time Capsule
  • Opportunities
  • Legislative highlights

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Disaster funding update:

The Marianas continue to receive federal funding to pay for the cost of recovering from Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu. And more federal disaster grants, for which we made the Marianas eligible in U.S. Public Law 116-20, were announced this week:

  • $3.6m for Tinian building repairs. Tinian Municipality is eligible to receive $3,595,794.89 for repairs of building damage caused by Super Typhoon Yutu, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced last Friday. The funds cover the 90 percent federal cost share. As with all Yutu recovery grants, FEMA obligates funds directly to the Commonwealth government which is then responsible for reimbursing eligible sub-recipients, such as Tinian, once proper documentation is received.
  • $1.46m to Public Safety. The Commonwealth Department of Public Safety was awarded $1,464,535.20 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The funds cover Emergency Protective Measures taken before, during, and after Super Typhoon Yutu to save lives, protect public health and safety, and reduce or eliminate threats of severe damage to public and private property.
  • $11.6m for debris removal. The Commonwealth Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management received awards today totaling $11,601,848.36 for two debris removal projects resulting from Super Typhoon Yutu.  $3,440,297.22 was granted at 100 percent Federal cost share, meaning there is no cost for the Commonwealth. $8,161,551.14 was awarded at 90 Federal percent cost share with the Commonwealth responsible for $906,839.01 for the project.
  • Emergency impact aid for schools. Public Law 116-20, the  Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, made available $165 million for costs incurred during the 2018-2019 school year as a result of educating public and non-public school students displaced by Typhoon Mangkut, Super Typhoon Yutu, and other natural disasters. The U.S. Department of Education plans to award funds, it announced last Friday, through the 2019 Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations program, 2019 Emergency Impact Aid, and Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence). See the announcement here. Separately on Monday, the Department noticed the availability of these funds for Institutions of Higher Education, such as Northern Marianas College.

100% Medicaid funding continues

 The House passed a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government funded through November 21. It includes an 8-week extension of the 100% FMAP that I added to the disaster supplemental in June, so no local match of federal Medicaid dollars is required for the time being. Importantly, by including this extension in the package of spending decisions needed to keep the government from shutting down, the Democratic House leadership has made clear that Medicaid funding for the Marianas and the other insular areas is an issue that needs resolution now. A bipartisan proposal—$360 million for Marianas Medicaid over the next six years with a generous FMAP—is included in H.R. 2328. That bill is expected to get a House vote when agreement is reached with the Senate.

Dems back lower drug prices

Lower prescription drug prices for the 2,500 people with Medicare insurance in the Marianas and for the thousands of others with insurance through their employer or an individual plan is the goal of  H.R. 3. Chairman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) introduced the Democratic drug price reduction legislation this week. And I am a cosponsor. The proposal also restructures the Medicare Part D drug benefit, setting an annual, out-of-pocket maximum of $2,000. Beneficiaries who have more than $2,000 in prescription drug costs would pay nothing after reaching that cap. The bill now advances to committee for consideration in the coming weeks.

House protects NMC funding

Set to expire at the end of September, funding that goes to Northern Marianas College and other Minority-Serving Institutions passed the House. H.R. 2486, which I cosponsored, ensures NMC and others MSIs will receive $255 million over the next two years. The federal funding helps students of color with academic counseling and better access to degree programs that prepare them for in-demand jobs. Northern Marianas College used these funds to establish Project PROA, which offers Marianas high school juniors and seniors and first-year students at NMC free tutoring and access to a computer center and incorporates indigenous Chamorro and Refaluwasch values. The result: 86 percent of participants passed more than half of their classes after receiving Project PROA tutoring services. The bill is now pending in the Senate, where Republicans blocked an effort on Thursday to fast-track passage before the September 30 deadline.

Elevating the education profession

To make sure every child in America has the benefit of quality instruction from quality teachers I have introduced the Elevation of the Education Profession Act. The bill creates an advisory committee at the U.S. Department of Education. Teachers; state, territory and local education agencies; school administrators; parents; civil rights organizations; and teacher colleges would be represented on the committee. Their goal: to make recommendations on what we can do to give teachers the respect and support they need to keep them in the profession and provide our children with the education they deserve. I held a hearing on the issue of teacher retention earlier this year and what I heard convinced me that we need a national framework to elevate the education profession and keep America’s schools great.

Supporting seniors, school safety

At the Education and Labor Committee, Wednesday, we approved bills for a floor vote that increase support for Marianas seniors through the Older Americans Act and that require collection of school shooting data. H.R. 4334 boosts Older Americans Act annual funding up to 7 percent in each of the next five years. The money pays for local programs like Meals on Wheels, which ensure seniors can get food and other basic services they need to live with dignity in their own homes. The committee also cleared H.R. 4301, which replaces a hodgepodge of definitions in different places with one federal definition of the term “school shooting.” Unless we all agree on the scope of the problem, we will never be able to strengthen our nation’s gun laws to prevent future tragedies in our schools.

Permanent residence bill okayed

The House Natural Resources Committee reported favorably H.R. 560, my bill making permanent resident status in the Marianas possible for an estimated 2,875 long-term CW workers. The bill, which I introduced in February, also gives some 56 foreign investors, originally admitted under the Marianas’ own immigration law, the ability to stay in the Marianas indefinitely. The bill was amended in Committee, removing about 1,000 individuals who had been living in the Marianas under temporary, humanitarian parole. They are already eligible for the Marianas-only permanent resident status by virtue of another bill I introduced, H.R. 559, which President Trump signed into law on June 25. Permanent resident status does not provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship or convey any right to public services, such as food stamps or Medicaid. But, by moving these long-term workers out of the CW program, we are taking a burden off the businesses they work for that have had to apply for CW permits year-after-year. This stabilizes our labor market in a way that will have positive economic effects going forward.

TLCs for 4,998 workers approved

Temporary Labor Certifications have been approved for 4,998 FY20 CW workers, as of Thursday, up from 4,198 the week before. Over 90 percent of applications received in April, May, and June—as soon as the application window opened—have been decided. Applications for another 7,259 workers from employers who delayed submission are still pending final decisions. The Temporary Labor Certification is a new requirement of the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act to ensure that a CW worker is never hired for a job when a U.S. worker is able and available. The TLC also ensures that CW workers’ wages do not undercut wages paid to U.S. workers. Your congressional office continues to assist employers who have applied for TLCs and are concerned their applications are not receiving prompt attention. Please reach out to me, if you need help checking the status of your application.

1,484 CW extensions accepted

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reports that 911 FY20 CW-1 extension petitions, covering 1,485 workers, have been received and accepted as of September 9. The agency also reports the status of 9,923 CW-1 workers will expire on September 30, 2019. Employers can file an extension of stay application before the current CW-1 status expires to allow their CW-1 workers to continue working for up to 240 days or until the application is adjudicated, whichever is earlier. As a reminder, USCIS will only accept the 8/01/18 version of Form I-129CW. The agency will reject petitions using earlier versions of the form. Employers should be sure to review the agency’s Form I-129CW webpage for the latest updates and information prior to filing their petitions.

Shark fin bill has 236 cosponsors

The nationwide ban on shark fins, which I introduced in March, now has a majority of House Members as cosponsors – 236 – the most I have ever gotten on one bill. Given that support, the Natural Resources Committee recommended the bill for approval by the House on Wednesday. H.R. 737 generally makes it illegal to possess, buy, or sell shark fins or any product containing shark fins in the United States. It is modeled after a law in the Marianas and similar restrictions in 12 states and two other non-state areas of the U.S. Closing the U.S. market for shark fins will reduce demand and spare the millions of sharks killed each year simply for their fins. This is a waste and upsets the ecosystems in which sharks have a vital role. I want to thank Oceana, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Wellness Action, and other conservation groups that have worked with me to build bipartisan support for this bill.

Conservation grants awarded

The Interior Department announced funding this week for protection of coral reefs in the Marianas and to protect endangered species.

  • $200,000 to NOVA Southeastern University in Florida to support Coral Fellows in American Samoa, Guam, the Marianas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • $239,898 to the CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources to conserve and protect two rare species of trees (trongkon guåfi and Osmoxylon mariannense) and an herb (Nesogenes rotensis), native to Rota and endangered by deer and mealybugs.
  • $124,435 to the CNMI Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality to fund participation in Coral Reef Task Force meetings, expansion of a coral nursery, and planning to reduce damage from the Crown of Thorns Sea-Star in Rota and Tinian.

Congress appropriated $2,500,000 for this purpose in all the insular areas in FY19. The Trump administration has proposed cutting that back to $948,000 in FY20. The House, however, passed on June 25 an Interior Department appropriation bill for FY20 that keeps funding at $2,500,000.

Hearing set on U.S. and the Pacific

In my capacity as Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee I have scheduled a hearing for Wednesday on what we need to do to sustain America’s relationships with the nations of the insular Pacific. And I have asked the Foreign Affairs Committee to join in. Front and center at the hearing will be the Compacts of Free Association between the U.S. and the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which end in 2023, respectively. We want to avoid a repeat of the Compact renewal delay with the Republic of Palau. That renewal was agreed between our two nations in 2010; and I introduced legislation to approve it. But Congress did not take final action until 2018, much too long to keep a friendly neighbor waiting. FSM and RMI Ambassadors Akillino H. Susaia and Gerald M. Zackios will testify, as will U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Sandra Oudkirk.

House passes Purple Heart Coin Act

The House passed H.R. 1830, the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor Commemorative Coin Act. I am a sponsor of the bill. It authorizes minting coins to commemorate the opening of the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, NY. Surcharges from coin sales will support the mission of the Hall of Honor to collect and preserve the stories of nearly 2 million Purple Heart recipients for generations to come. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Justice grants top $1.2M

The U.S. Department of Justice announced three grants to the Commonwealth over the last week:

  • $549,870 for victim assistance. The FY19 Victim Assistance Grant to the Commonwealth’s Criminal Justice Planning Agency will be used for crisis counseling, shelter, therapy, and new program development. The grant program is funded by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders.
  • $208,813 for crime control. The Commonwealth Criminal Justice Planning Agency also received funding through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. The grant supports local crime control and prevention initiatives, including drug and gang task forces, domestic violence programs, courts, information sharing, public and law enforcement safety programs.
  • $450,000 to Karidat. The Transitional Housing Grant Program funds are intended to help victims of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking, who need housing assistance and supportive services.

Congratulations to CJPA and Karidat!

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 4285 – Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2019 (Passed, 417-1)
  • H.R. 2211 - STURDY Act (Passed, as amended and agrees to by voice vote)

NEXT WEEK