President Barack Obama signed into law on Friday the U.S. government’s $1.1 trillion spending bill for fiscal year 2014, giving the CNMI more than the fiscal year 2013 sequestration levels, including a $3.9 million federal funding increase for the Public School System, as well as the ability for the CNMI to retain its unspent capital improvement project instead of being reprogrammed to another territory.
The 1,582-page measure, which passed Congress last week by overwhelming margins, funds every agency of the federal government, including those that cover the CNMI and the rest of the territories.
It also scales back automatic across-the-board spending cuts or “sequester” that impacted major domestic programs in 2013.
“Across the board, funding is up from the FY 2013 sequestration levels, and a number of programs important to the Northern Marianas saw increases. We were also successful at adding legislative language that helps the NMI at several points in the 1,500-page bill, H.R. 3547,” Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said over the weekend.
Sablan, who turned 59 yesterday, said PSS alone will receive $12.7 million for elementary and secondary education programs in school year 2014-2015, a $3.9-million increase over the current year.
The largest grant comes from Title I, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which aids schools with large populations of children from low-income families, Sablan said.
Appropriators also instructed the Veterans Benefits Administration to increase staff presence in remote areas and singled out the CNMI in particular as an area that needs more attention.
“This recognition caps my multi-year and ongoing work to make sure veterans in the NMI are getting the same level of service as veterans anywhere else in our country,” Sablan said.
Funding for the CNMI food stamp program will continue at $12.148 million in fiscal year 2014.
But Sablan said the Appropriations Committee also included a directive, at his request, for the Agriculture secretary to “provide a report on the feasibility of establishing SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] in the Northern Mariana Islands.”
The delegate reiterated that bringing the national food stamp program SNAP to the CNMI could double benefits for needy families.
“This money and directive are separate from the $33 million SNAP pilot program currently under consideration in the five-year Farm Bill, which would also move the CNMI toward SNAP and raise benefits,” the delegate added.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos supports bringing the CNMI under the national SNAP.
Besides increased funding, the CNMI once again gets to keep its unspent CIP money rather than have them reprogrammed to another U.S. territory.
Any territory where the CIP expenditure rate is below 50 percent could lose their money to a territory that spends aggressively.
“The president has included this proposal in his budget for the last three years… We have blocked the president’s proposal three years running to protect the tens of millions of dollars already appropriated for the NMI to use for the hospital, schools, power plant improvements or other critical infrastructure. But the real solution—and what would help people most—is for the CNMI government to spend those dollars,” Sablan said.
Head Start will also see a $1 billion increase nationally, which should restore money the CNMI program lost due to sequestration, Sablan said.
Federal employees, including those in the CNMI, will get a 1 percent pay increase—their first in three years—as will U.S. troops.
Medically retired veterans and survivors’ cost-of-living increase has also been restored.
Funding for the Safe Drinking Water Act grant that has brought Saipan near 24-hour water and the Clean Water Act grant will increase, but most importantly the 1.5 percent set aside for insular areas, which the CNMI won beginning in 2010, will continue.
These are but some of the funding for federal programs that the CNMI relies on.
Obama signed the spending bill a day before federal funding was set to run out.