THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - September 27, 2019

Sep 30, 2019

In this issue:

- Another $1.8M for laid-off workers

EDA offers help on disaster grants

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Dela Cruz joins vets council

Mr. Frederick Dela Cruz of Tinian has agreed to serve as a member of my Veteran Health Administration Advisory Council. Mr. Dela Cruz is active in the veterans community and served for over 22 years in the U.S. Army. He fills the seat left by Ms. Tania Mendiola, who relocated to Guam. Thank you, Tania, for your contributions to the Marianas veteran community and welcome, Frederick. Thank you, both, for your service.

More time for FY20 CW renewals

Employers, who have not yet received the temporary labor certifications required to renew their employees’ CW permits for fiscal year 2020, will get extra time. USCIS called to say they will accept a renewal application, even after the current CW permit expires, if the current permit expires on or after September 1, and if the renewal is accompanied by an approved temporary labor certification for fiscal 2020. The CW renewal must be received by USCIS within 30 days of issuance of the certification but not later than November 1. This is good news for the 2,864 workers still waiting for temporary labor certifications, who will not have to leave the Marianas, and for their employers. As of Wednesday, 5,572 TLCs for renewals have been approved. I wrote to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, continuing my efforts over the last months to get this kind of relief for workers and the businesses that employ them. I very much appreciate his response, and the work of his staff on this issue, as I said in my thank you note.

Bill adds 3,000 construction CWs

Responding to the need for construction workers to help with on-going typhoon recovery efforts, I have introduced legislation making 3,000 new CW permits available. H.R. 4479 allows for the additional workers for three fiscal years: 2020 through 2022. Currently, the law prohibits using CW, Commonwealth-Only Transitional Worker, permits for construction workers. The new permits would not count against annual caps on CW permits already set by law. It is clear from my personal observation and from reports from constituents that a lack of construction workers is slowing down our recovery. And, because the Trump administration took our normal source of construction workers, the Philippines, off the list of countries approved for H-2B visas this year, we cannot use that visa category to fill the need. We are going to have to make a temporary change in the law, if we want to rebuild our schools and other public infrastructure and replace roofs and repair damage to homes, as quickly as possible.

Disaster funding updates:

  • Another $1.8M for laid-off workers. $1,841,563 in additional funds were made available to the Commonwealth on Tuesday to continue paying for temporary jobs for workers laid off because of Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu. The money can also be used for training and placement services. Immediately after the storms, the U.S. Department of Labor approved up to $2,762,345 and awarded $920,782 for cleanup and recovery-related jobs on Rota, Tinian, and Saipan. And in June Congress appropriated $50 million in Public Law 116-20 to keep funding this dislocated worker program. This week’s release will allow the Commonwealth to continue helping those who lost their jobs because of the storms. It also helps fill the larger need for recovery workers.
  • EDA offers help on disaster grants. The Economic Development Administration held a webinar on Thursday to help potential applicants for the $587 million that Congress made available for recovery from Typhoon Mangkhut, Super Typhoon Yutu, and other Presidentially declared natural disasters. EDA allocated $190 million for the Pacific region that includes the Marianas. The Notice of Funding Opportunity was published on August 13 and congressional office staff met with the Regional Director in Seattle a few days later. We wanted to ensure that Marianas applicants are given the help they may need to perfect their grant applications and win funding. Grants are now available on a first-come, first-served basis through grants.gov. Eligible projects should promote economic recovery and resilience. The slide deck from the webinar is available at sablan.house.gov.

Continuing the climate crisis fight

The Natural Resources Committee advanced to 10 bills aimed at combating climate change and protecting our oceans and coasts from its harmful effects. The markup included legislation to support climate-resilient shores, to expand flood prevention, to conserve wetlands, and to plan, prepare for, and respond to coastal climate change adaptation. I am a cosponsor of the Living Shorelines Act (H.R. 3115) that would establish a grant program to fund the design, implementation, and monitoring of large- and small-scale climate resilient living shoreline projects and the Coastal State Climate Preparedness Act (H.R. 3541) that creates a Climate Change Adaptation Preparedness and Response Program.

Easing access to college funds

Filling out the 108-question FAFSA is so hard that as many as 40% of college-bound students and their parents just give up—leaving $2.6 billion in available tuition aid unused last school year. That is why I introduced the Simple FAFSA Act. My bill will make it easier to complete the FAFSA, so more families—especially lower income families like many in the Marianas—get the federal aid they need to send their children to college. For instance, families receiving a means-tested benefit, like Medicaid, will be able to skip all the financial questions on the form. And students will only have to file the FAFSA once, not year-after-year, to qualify automatically for the full Pell Grant that allows most students to attend Northern Marianas College debt-free. H.R. 4478, also opens the FAFSA to students with prior drug offenses, so our nation can benefit from the potential of young people who decide to get straight—and reward them for their decision. See my introductory statement in the Congressional Record here.

Doing more for diabetes

The Minority Diabetes Initiative Act, which I co-sponsored, authorizes more federal grant monies for treatment of diabetes in the Marianas and other minority communities. The incidence of diabetes has begun decreasing for most Americans, but not for Pacific Islanders; so, we have to do more to address this health problem. According to the 2016 report on the CNMI Non-Communicable Diseases & Risk Factor Hybrid Survey, as many as 1 in 5 adults in the Marianas may have diabetes. Chamorros are the hardest hit group by ethnicity. Older men are more at risk. The legislation I am backing, H.R. 4550, allows public and nonprofit health care providers to get money for routine care for diabetic patients, public education on diabetes prevention and control, eye care, foot care, and treatment for kidney disease and other complications. More must be done, but this is a good step.

Funds for Substance Use Disorder

As Congress prepares for the final fiscal year 2020 funding decisions, I joined 48 other Members calling for an increase in funding to address substance use disorder. The letter, to Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and to Reps. Lowey (D-NY) and DeLauro (D-CT), chairwomen of the Committee on Appropriations and the Subcommittee with responsibility for Health, respectively, also asks that at least some of the policy ideas contained in the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act (H.R. 2569) be attached to this year’s funding. I am a cosponsor of the CARE Act, which would eliminate barriers to care, ensuring that federal funding is effective and efficient. The Marianas received $630,500 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to combat the opioid crisis in early September. Treatment resources can be found on SAMHSA’s site findtreatment.samhsa.gov or by calling SAMHSA’s national hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

More Justice grants for Marianas

The U.S. Department of Justice announced four awards to help local agencies and organizations respond to violent crimes and provide victim assistance:

  • $618,874 awarded to the Commonwealth Criminal Justice Planning Agency from the STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program on September 23 to encourage partnerships between law enforcement, the courts, and victim service organizations to combat violent crimes against women, enhance victim safety, and improve services to victims.
  • $310,854 awarded to the Northern Marianas Department of Public Safety from the Support for Adam Walsh Act Implementation Grant Program on September 20 to work with the Sex Offender Registry Administrative Board to ensure compliance of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. The funds will be used to maintain the Saipan sex offender registry and to continue development of registries for Tinian and Rota. 
  • $242,217 from the State and Territorial Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Coalitions Program to the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence on September 23 to support efforts to end sexual assault and domestic violence in the Marianas through training, technical assistance, public awareness activities, and advocacy.
  • $61,767 from the Sexual Assault Services (SAS) Formula Program was awarded to the Commonwealth Criminal Justice Planning Agency on September 23. The grant is intended to support rape crisis centers and nonprofits that provide comprehensive services and assistance to sexual assault victims. 

Keeping an eye on Pacific relations

As Vice Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, I held a joint hearing with the Foreign Affairs Committee on the need to sustain the close relationship between the United States and the insular nations of the Pacific. The main focus of the hearing was the Compacts of Free Association between the U.S. and the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republics of Palau and the Marshall Islands that are expiring in a few years. Testifying were representatives from the Defense, State, Interior Departments, the Government Accountability Office and FSM Ambassador Susaia and RMI Ambassador Zackios. Members of the Committees and witnesses agreed that the Compacts and close relationships with Pacific nations must be preserved and strengthened to ward off the influence of foreign powers and to maintain security, economic opportunity, and stability in the region. I will continue to keep a keen eye on the re-negotiations of the compacts and plan to hold regular hearings on the topic.

Senate panel okays Interior funding 

The Senate Committee on Appropriations approved a $35.8 billion Interior and Environment funding bill. Highlights include:

  • Renewal of the 1.5 percent set-asides for the insular areas in Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act funds. The statutory set-asides are 0.25 and 0.33 percent, respectively. The increase, which I started during my first term in Congress, has resulted in $78 million for the Marianas through FY 2019 and brought 24-hour water to most Saipan households.
  • $9.49 million for the Office of Insular Affairs
  • $20.8 million for OIA technical assistance grants
  • $4.5 million for OIA maintenance grants 
  • $3.5 million for the Brown Tree Snake Interdiction Program
  • $3 million for the Coral Reef Initiative
  • $5 million for OIA’s Empowering Insular Communities program to develop action plans to help lower electricity costs in the insular areas
  • $5 million to the Republic of the Marshall Islands as partial payment towards the $20 million in compensation due to economic impacts caused by U.S. changes to tax and trade provisions

The bill now heads to the Senate floor followed by a conference on the House and Senate appropriations bills for FY 2020 funding after November 21.

OPPORTUNITIES

Jobs:

Public Comments

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

  • H.R. 2528 – STEM Opportunities Act of 2019 (Passed in the House on motion to suspend rules)
  • H.R 3691 - TRANSLATE Act (Passed in the House by voice vote)
  • H.R. 2229 - First Responders Passport Act of 2019 (Passed in the House by voice vote)
  • H.R. 1595 - SAFE Banking Act of 2019 (Passed in the House 321-103)
  • H.R. 3710 - Cybersecurity Vulnerability Remediation Act (Passed in the House by voice vote)

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.