THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - September 29, 2017

Oct 1, 2017

In this issue: 

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Helping Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

We all remember the critical role the U.S. military played in helping the Marianas recover from Typhoon Soudelor. So, this week I wrote to President Trump, along with 144 of my colleagues, recommending that he fully mobilize the Department of Defense in support of rescue and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Subsequently, the President did appoint Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan to take the lead. Insular area Delegates and other Members of Congress also went on the record with the leadership of the House of Representatives that, when a relief measure is considered in Congress, made necessary given the scale of the disaster, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands receive no less assistance than Texas or Florida or any similarly affected U.S. state would receive. Federal assistance to the Marianas following Typhoon Soudelor was equivalent to the help that any other part of the United States receives from FEMA and SBA and all the other federal agencies that respond to disaster. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands deserve no less now in their time of crisis.

Minimum wage rises to $7.05

Minimum wage increases to $7.05 per-hour on Saturday, September 30. This is the next to last increase required by federal law. In September 2018, the wage rises to $7.25, the national minimum. Prior to the enactment of U.S. Public Law 110-28 in 2007, the minimum wage in the Marianas was set by Commonwealth law and had been stuck at $3.05 per-hour since the early 1990s. Over the last nine years, I have sometimes passed legislation to stretch out the rate of increase to make sure that this rise in wages did not force businesses to let employees go. 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. Concern that the benefits of rising wages would be wiped out by higher costs, as employers repriced their goods, also proved to be unfounded. Increases in wages have kept ahead of inflation, meaning workers are better off because of federal minimum wage law.

Medicaid reduction blocked

Hidden in the Republican Graham/Cassidy bill to repeal and replace Obamacare was a proposal increasing the share of Medicaid that the Marianas and other insular areas pay. The current match is 55 percent federal and 45 percent local. The Republican bill would have changed that to 50 percent federal and 50 percent local, making it harder to help the 14,481 people in the Marianas who depend on Medicaid for their healthcare. Insular areas Delegates, Republican and Democrat alike, voiced our opposition; and, fortunately, Graham/Cassidy failed in the Senate for lack of support. Besides giving the Marianas the improved 55/45 Medicaid match, Obamacare provided us with $109 million to add to our regular $50 million in Medicaid funds over the ten-year period ending in 2019. So far, we have been successful in blocking attempts to take away the Medicaid funds that many in the Marianas depend on. At the same time, we are looking for ways to continue the Obamacare funding beyond 2019.

Helping with energy costs

This week, I joined 52 of my colleagues in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price urging the quick release of LIHEAP funds at the highest amount possible to help families. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program has been a focus of the congressional office. I introduced legislation to increase funding for the Marianas and other insular areas in 2011 and actively lobbied then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to use her administrative authority to raise funding. She did; and funding to the Marianas rose four times higher, making more families eligible and doubling their average monthly benefit. With poverty levels in the insular areas from three to five times the national average and the price of electricity two to four times more than most Americans pay it makes sense that we get as much of this form of federal assistance as possible. 

$2.8M in federal funds for Marianas

Federal funding of $2,845,248 announced this week for the Marianas is going to a wide array of uses and organizations in the Marianas:

  • $57,685 award from the Sexual Assault Services Formula Program to Criminal Justice Planning Agency. The SAS Formula Program supports rape crisis centers, and nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations that provide comprehensive services to victims of sexual assault.
  • $299,983 award to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking on Campus to Northern Marianas College. Funding supports the development of a campus-based coordinated response to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on campus, and encourages partnership with law enforcement, and victim advocacy and service organizations.
  • $450,000 award from the Specialized Services for Victims of Human Trafficking to the Pacific Ombudsman for Humanitarian Law to increase and expand specialized services for Pacific Islanders and other underserved or unserved populations Pacific Ombudsman is one of thirteen selected nationwide for funding.
  • $487,567 award from the Victims of Crime Act Victim Assistance Program to the Criminal Justice Planning Agency for local, community-based programs providing direct services to crime victims.
  • $619,046 award from the STOP Violence Against Women Program to the Criminal Justice Planning Agency to strengthen the efforts of law enforcement, the courts, and victim service organizations to combat violent crimes against women and provide services to victims.
  • $750,000 award from Comprehensive Services for Victims of All Forms of Human Trafficking to Karidat to improve the quality and increase the quantity of services that assist all human trafficking victims. Grantees are selected based a demonstrated history of providing services to this vulnerable population. Karidat is one of only five grantees chosen this year.
  • $180,967 from the Social and Economic Development program to the Carolinian Affairs Office. Funding will be used for the preservation of the indigenous and native Carolinian cultural knowledge, practices, and traditions through socio-economic development strategies.

Congratulations to all!

OPPORTUNITIES 

Grants:

Jobs:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS 

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 3823 – Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017 (Passed, 264-155)
  • S. 1866 – Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria Education Relief Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • S. 327 – Fair Access to Investment Research Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 3229 – To protect the safety of judges by extending the authority of the Judicial Conference to redact sensitive information contained in their financial disclosure reports, and for other purposes (Agreed to by voice vote) 
  • H.R. 2792 – Control Unlawful Fugitive Felons Act of 2017 (Passed, 244-171)
  • H.R. 2824 – Increasing Opportunity and Success for Children and Parents through Evidence-Based Home Visiting Act (Passed, 214-209)
  • H.R. 2061 – North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2017 (Passed, 415-0)
  • H.Res. 311 – Recognizing that for 50 years the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has worked toward stability, prosperity, and peace in Southeast Asia (Passed, 413-0)
  • S. 1141 – Women, Peace, And Security Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 2519 – The American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act (Agreed to by voice vote)

Legislation I Cosponsored

  • H.Res.541 – Recognizing the achievements of Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions on the 10th anniversary of their establishment

NEXT WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.Con.Res. 71 – Establishing the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2018 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2019 through 2027.
  • H.R. 36 – Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
  • S. 782 – PROTECT Our Children Act of 2017
  • S. 178 – Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act
  • H.R. 2316 – Cooperative Management of Mineral Rights Act of 2017
  • H.R. 2937 – Community Reclamation Partnerships Act
  • H.R. 289 – GO Act
  • H.R. 2582 – Confirming State Land Grants for Education Act

Committee Hearings

Wednesday, October 4

  • Committee on Natural Resources Markup
  • Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Markup
  • Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Legislative Hearing -- H.R. 146, H.R. 2402 and H.R. 2606