THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - September 24, 2021

Sep 26, 2021

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EDA awards $6m for PSS tech center

Congratulations to the Public Schools System on the award of $6 million for construction of a technical and career education center at Marianas High School. The PSS grant from the Economic Development Administration is the last of seven applications from the Commonwealth for Super Typhoon Yutu recovery projects. EDA has now awarded $93,891,034 to the Marianas, almost half the $190 million the agency allocated for the Pacific Region. I worked to include this funding for EDA recovery grants and eligibility for the Marianas in U.S. Public Law 116-20 in June 2019; and PSS, Northern Marianas College and the Commonwealth government quickly submitted seven grant applications. But the Trump administration only approved one. After the 2020 presidential election, your congressional staff met with the incoming Biden team and flagged the six remaining and long-delayed Yutu grants. Once President Biden was sworn in, we finally started getting help (see chart). I met with EDA Assistant Secretary Castillo Thursday, thanked her for taking action, and reminded her the PSS grant was still outstanding. Later that day, EDA announced the $6 million PSS award. PSS will match this grant with another $6 million of Community Development Block Grant funds, also provided by Congress in USPL 116-20. The new technical and career training facility at the high school is expected to increase the pool of skilled U.S. workers in the Marianas to offset dependence on a foreign workforce and provide higher paying jobs for PSS graduates.

Marianas bills clear House

The House passed two of my bills Thursday, one providing more support for Marianas entrepreneurs and one giving law enforcement more access to federal assistance. I piggybacked both bills on the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act, which has passed without fail for 60 straight years.

  • Microloans for small businesses. Current and aspiring business owners in the Marianas could apply for microloans funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration under terms of my Northern Mariana Islands Entrepreneurship Act.The SBA funds these loans, typically not offered by banks, up to $50,000 for working capital or to acquire materials, supplies, or equipment. The microloan program is also targeted to help women, low-income, veteran, and minority entrepreneurs. 
  • Triple funding for policing, justice. My legislation tripling federal funding for policing in the Marianas is also included in the National Defense Authorization Act.H.R. 4582 provides the Marianas with the same base funding that states receive from the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance GrantMore federal funding will help the Commonwealth Department of Public Safety, prosecutors, and the courts, and support initiatives aimed at crime prevention. Thanks to Rep. Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawai’i) who added H.R. 4582 during committee mark-up at my request.

The FY22 National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 4350now goes to the Senate for consideration.

More NDAA highlights

The annual defense policy bill authorizes over $768 billion in discretionary spending for our national defense that will maintain military readiness, enhance capabilities, and benefit our service members and their families. H.R. 4350 also includes an amendment I cosponsoredthat directs the Defense and Energy Departments to declassify documents related to weapons testing in the Marshall Islands and another that provides an apology to individuals and their families in the Marianas and several western states who were exposed to radiation from nuclear testing. Additional provisions include:

  • A 2.7% pay raise for service members
  • Increased parental leave for primary and secondary caregivers
  • $15 minimum wage for service and construction contracts
  • Uniform Code of Military Justice reforms to combat sexual assault and extremism
  • Support for the relocation of at-risk Afghans

Improved climate and energy initiatives

$223k for Byrne JAG grant

The Marianas Criminal Justice Planning Agency will receive $223,880 for Fiscal Year 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice notified me Thursday. This is the same funding that would triple under terms of my legislation the House passed that same day (see story above). CJPA is responsible for allocating the grant in the Marianas. The money may be used for drug and gang task forces, crime prevention and domestic violence programs, courts, corrections, treatment, justice information sharing initiatives, or other programs aimed at reducing crime or enhancing the safety of the public or police officers. Congratulations, CJPA.

$700k to thwart domestic violence

The Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence was awarded a Rural Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Program grant today. Congratulations! The $700,000 grant can be used to support programs that prevent domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and help the victims of these crimes. Grantees are expected to implement cooperation among police, prosecutors, and victim service providers or use other strategies to reduce the incidence of these crimes, particularly in rural and geographically isolated areas. The Northern Marianas Coalition is one of only 46 organizations to win this 2021 funding from the Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women. Grants ranged from $388,298 to $950,000.

Relief for agricultural fairs ok’d

The House Committee on Agriculture held a mark-up Tuesday advancing H.R. 2424, a bill I cosponsored that provides $500 million in grants to support agricultural fairs for losses due to COVID-19. Entities in the Marianas that help farmers promote their produce would be eligible for funding. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration. Watch the mark-up here.

VA insular advisory board reviewed

Wednesday, the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations reviewed my bill to establish a board to advise the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on insular issues. H.R. 3730 would provide a formal process for representatives from the Marianas, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the USVI and the Freely Associated States to recommend improvements in delivery of benefits and services to insular veterans. At the hearing, I highlighted the many unique barriers in the insular areas to help that veterans elsewhere in America can take for granted. H.R. 3730 would give insular veterans one more way to put their concerns and needs front and center at the Department of Veterans Affairs. See my full statement here.

Vets committee addresses suicide

The Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on veteran suicide prevention Wednesday and discussed the VA’s initiatives to help veterans in crisis. I used this opportunity to tell the story of our veterans who made successful recoveries from battle with the help of the VA, but that their journey home to the Marianas was prolonged because appropriate treatment was only available elsewhere in the United States. In this hearing, Chairman Takano affirmed his commitment to include getting a Vet Center for the Marianas in upcoming legislation. I would urge any veteran at risk of suicide to call the veterans crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. Help is available, and needing help is normal. If you or a loved one are a veteran in crisis, please do not hesitate to use this resource. To learn about available support visit the new VA Reach Out project; and to hear my questions in the hearing, watch the recording posted to my YouTube channel here.

Apprenticeship help for insular areas

The Marianas would receive $2.8 million over 5 years to support the creation of registered apprenticeship programs under terms of my bill H.R. 8320, the Outlying Area Apprenticeship Act.

A step towards submerged lands transfer

The President handed over submerged lands and mineral rights around nine of the Mariana Islands in 2014, after I was able to get the necessary authorization enacted in U.S. Public Law 113-34

Bill will increase energy assistance for low-income NMI households

I have introduced legislation to amend the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) Act of 1981 and provide more funding for low-income households in the Northern Marianas and other insular areas that pay a high proportion of their income for energy.

Grants:

Jobs:

Public Comments:

THIS WEEK

  • S. 189 - Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act (passed, 423-0)
  • H.R. 4350 - National Defense Authorization Act for FY22 (passed, 316-113)
  • H.R. 5293 - Dept. of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act (passed, 423-0)

NEXT WEEK

  • H.R. 3110 - PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act
  • H.R. 3992 - Protect Older Job Applicants Act
  • H.R. 2119 - Family Violence Prevention & Services Improvement Act