THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - September 28, 2018

Oct 1, 2018

In this issue: 

Vets have input on health center

USDA okays Mangkhut food aid

More families food stamp eligible

McGovern agrees on SNAP inclusion

$7.25! Minimum wage at federal level

Apply now for Academy nomination

Preserving our history

Protecting our farmers

Defending the Endangered Species Act

$127k for wildlife conservation

$1.1m to address opioid abuse

$6.4m for buses and facilities

$49k for hazmat training

$390k for PSS emergency plans

$1.25m for energy projects

Opportunities

Legislative Highlights

_________________________________________________________________________________

Vets have input on health center

Veterans will have a chance to be heard next week by the consultants writing the feasibility study for a Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in the Marianas. I included the study in Section 213 of the VA MISSION Act, Public Law 115-182, And I requested that the consultants conduct in-person listening sessions with veterans here in the Marianas. Veterans on Saipan can have their voices heard on October 2 at Joeten Kiyu Public Library VTC Room from 1 P.M. to 3 P.M. Tinian veterans have their opportunity on October 3 at Tinian Public Library from 10:30 A.M. to 12:00 P.M. Rota veterans can participate from home using their smart devices during the Saipan listening session. Please attend, if you can. And, please, contact Mr. Randy Johnson, Congressional Wounded Warrior Fellow, in your congressional office to let him know you will be there or participating by phone.  Randy can be reached at randy.johnson@mail.house.gov or (670) 323-2647. Remember: the better the participation, the better the results of the feasibility study are likely to be. 

USDA okays Mangkhut food aid

The Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the replacement of food damaged during Typhoon Mangkhut on Rota. The Commonwealth requested a 10-day extension of time for reporting the loss of food purchased with NAP benefits; and I have been informed that FNS has now approved that request. Households on Rota that receive food stamps and that had food supplies damaged in the typhoon will have until October 10 to report the loss and request replacement benefits. Families who think they may be eligible for this disaster food assistance should contact the CNMI Nutrition Assistance Program office. On Rota the phone is: (670) 532-9354.

More families food stamp eligible

Governor Torres announced in his State of the Commonwealth address that more families would soon be eligible for federal food stamp assistance. Secretary of Community and Cultural Affairs Robert Hunter followed up on the Governor’s announcement with these specifics: “The FNS approved an increase in the CNMI’s NAP income eligibility standards to that of 100 percent of poverty-level guidelines recognized in the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. This means a qualified single individual would be eligible if they earned $1,005 or less per month.  A family of two could bring in earnings of $1,354 and qualify, a family of three $1,702, a family of four $2,050, and a family of five $2,399. This is an increase from the current $841 per month cap on earnings and the NAP’s normal earnings cap of $541. The increased income-eligibility level will go into effect beginning October 1 of this year.” The increase is made possible by the $32.5 million I put into Section 4031 of the 2014 Agricultural Act, Public Law 113-79. I urge families that newly qualify for the program to apply.

McGovern agrees on SNAP inclusion

After I updated Rep. James McGovern (D-Massachusetts) on the Marianas food stamp program, he agreed to work with me on legislation to bring us into the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP. This is significant because McGovern is the top Democrat on the House Nutrition Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over SNAP. He is also expected to chair the Rules Committee, which controls what legislation goes to the House floor, if Democrats take over the majority of the U.S. House of Representatives in January. It is also important because the Marianas program faces a crisis next year. Food stamp benefits have doubled and an additional 829 families—3,610 in total—are expected to be eligible beginning October 1, 2018. This growth is the result of the $32.5 million I put into the 2014 Agricultural Act. But the Commonwealth government already plans to cut benefits and push families out of the program in October 2019. So, between then and now it is my job to find more money for the Commonwealth’s program. Or I must get the Marianas into SNAP. Jim McGovern’s help will be key to reaching those goals.

$7.25! Minimum wage at federal level

Minimum wage reaches the federal level of $7.25 per-hour on Sunday, September 30. This is the last step in a process that began in 2007, mandated by U.S. Public Law 110-28. Before that, only the Marianas Legislature set minimum wage and it had been stuck at $3.05 per-hour since the 1990s. In Congress, I have twice passed legislation to stretch out the rate of increase to make sure rising wages did not force Marianas businesses to cut staff. It worked. Throughout this transition period, the Government Accountability Office kept regular track of whether minimum wage increases were causing job losses in the Marianas, and found no specific correlation. And concern that the benefits of rising wages would be wiped out by higher costs, as employers repriced their goods, also proved unfounded. Increases in wages have kept ahead of inflation, meaning workers are better off because of the federal minimum wage law. In fact, we all are. One of the reasons for economic growth in Marianas has been the increased consumer spending that comes with wage increases.

The number of U.S. workers in the labor force also grew as wages rose. I am an original cosponsor of legislation to raise minimum wage nationwide to $15 per-hour over a seven-year period. Meanwhile, I have encouraged local business and the Commonwealth Legislature to take this action on their own. And increasing competition for employees has already prompted some Marianas employers to offer this higher wage. The prevailing wage requirements of my U.S. Workforce Act, Public Law 115-218, will also push wages up for both U.S. and foreign workers in the Marianas as that new law goes into effect. 

Preserving our history

World War II was fought on our islands and other American lands in the Pacific. It is important that we respect these battlefield sites and use them to educate and provide destinations for historic tourism. That is why in supporting H.R. 6018, the Preserving America’s Battlefields Act, reported favorably by the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, I submitted a statement to begin an effort to extend the Battlefield Land Acquisition Grant Program to World War II. The Program is presently limited to Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Civil War sites. Extending this program to World War II battlefields will help our people - as well as all Americans and visitors from around the world - learn and understand the significance of what transpired during those dark days when so many sacrificed so much.

Protecting our farmers

The Marianas were awarded a $242,480 Specialty Crop Block Grant last week to help farmers growing fruit, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery crops. The funds are used for research and for programs that increase demand for agricultural goods that increase farmers’ income. Full funding of this and many other targeted agricultural programs is important to our farmers, so this week I joined my colleagues in the House Specialty Crop Caucus in a letter to Farm Bill Conferees requesting support for these programs in the final bill. The letter also supported full funding for the pest and disease programs of the Agricultural and Plant Health Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. APHIS has played a leading role in the effort to eradicate the rhino beetle on Rota. 

$127k for wildlife conservation

The Commonwealth Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife is receiving $127,000 to support conservation through the State Wildlife Grant Program, it was announced on Friday. The grant will assist in implementing the CNMI Wildlife Action Plan. The Wildlife Grant program is the only federal conservation program with the explicit goal of making it unnecessary to list species as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. Funds may be used for research, fish and wildlife surveys, species restoration, habitat management or monitoring. They may also be used to update or modify a state’s plan. Congratulations, Fish and Wildlife!

$1.1m to address opioid abuse

The Marianas will receive a total of $1.1 million in federal funding as part of a nationwide effort to combat the opioid crisis.  The Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation will receive a $250,000  State Opioid Response Grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The CHC Program, Family and Community Driven Care, Addressing the Opioid Use Disorder Crisis in the CNMI, will support a comprehensive response to the epidemic and expand access to treatment and recovery support services. CHCC is also receiving $586,460 from the Centers for Disease Control for its work in preventing opioid-related deaths and other outcomes. Finally, the Kagman Community Health Center has been awarded $285,000 by the Health Resources and Services Administration for Expanding Access to Quality Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Services. Congratulations to the Commonwealth Healthcare Center and Kagman Community Health Center.

$6.4m for buses and facilities

The Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority has been awarded a $6,387,346 Bus & Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program grant, the Federal Transit Authority announced on Monday. The competitive grant funds will be used to purchase 12 transit buses for the fixed-route service on Saipan, erect 37 bus shelters along the route, and complete construction on an administrative and maintenance facility. The Bus & Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program provides federal funding appropriated by Congress to replace, rehabilitate, and purchase buses and related equipment and to construct bus-related facilities. Congratulations to COTA.

$49k for hazmat training

Congratulations to the Commonwealth’s Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, which has been awarded $48,599 in Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grant Program funds. The award, announced Tuesday by the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, will be used to conduct Hazmat Table Top Exercises on Tinian and Saipan and help fund participation in national trainings for hazardous material emergency response. Congratulations to DFEMS.

$390k for PSS emergency plans

The Public School System has been awarded $390,270 in School Emergency Management Program grant funds, the U.S. Department of Education announced on Friday. The School Emergency Management program provides one-time awards to education agencies to develop, implement, and enhance high-quality school emergency operations plans and practices. PSS will use the funding to improve their readiness and capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from emergencies and other incidents, both natural and man-made. PSS will conduct needs assessments at each school to identify gaps, improve coordination with local public safety and emergency response agencies, and seek training programs and technical assistance to improve and enhance emergency operations plans. Congratulations to PSS.

$1.25m for energy projects

The Commonwealth is receiving $1.25 million through the Energizing Insular Communities program that Congress funds annually. The Department of Interior announced on Friday the funding would be used for three projects:

·     $283,735 for the Department of Public Works, Division of Solid Waste Management for a pyrolysis pilot.

·     $118,528 to the Department of Lands and Natural Resources for a stand-alone photovoltaic light system for Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle detection, eradication, and bio-control.

·     $847,737 to the Commonwealth Utilities Commission for more efficient LED streetlights.

Congratulations to all.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

·     H.Res. 1071 – Recognizing that allowing illegal immigrants the right to vote devalues the franchise and diminishes the voting power of United States citizens (Passed, 279-72)

·     Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 6157 – Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2019 and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2019 (Passed, 361-61)

·     H.R. 6757 – Family Savings Act of 2018 (Passed, 240-177)

·     H.R. 6756 – American Innovation Act of 2018 (Passed, 260-156)

·     H.R. 6760 – Protecting Family and Small Business Tax Cuts Act of 2018 (Passed, 220-191) 

Legislation I Cosponsored

·     H.R.6876 – To permanently reauthorize mandatory funding programs for historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions.

·     H.R.6869 – Violence Against Women Veterans Act

·     H.R.4691 – WOOF! Act

·     H.R.930 – Lymphedema Treatment Act

NEXT WEEK

The House is in recess for the District Work Period.