WASHINGTON, D.C.—Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) has included in the 2020 federal spending bill his legislation that would allow 3,000 more foreign workers available for typhoon recovery work and to prepare for future storms in the Marianas.
Sablan’s H.R. 4479, the Disaster Recovery Workforce Act, was added to the spending measure in full during last-minute negotiations over the weekend. The House and Senate will vote on the spending bill this week, sending it to the President for signature into law.
“With $244 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery monies now available, as well as Economic Development Administration grants for rebuilding our schools and programs like FEMA’s Permanent House Construction all teed up, the last thing we want is any delay caused by a lack of workers,” Sablan said. “We worked very hard this year for those disaster recovery funds and now, getting the labor needed to put that money to work, should mean the Commonwealth government and private individuals and businesses in the Marianas have everything we need to finish rebuilding from Mangkhut and Yutu.”
Sablan’s Disaster Recovery Workforce Act provides the 3,000 new CW permits this year and in 2021 and 2022. The CW permits may only be issued for construction work related to recovery from a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency, such as Typhoon Mangkhut or Super Typhoon Yutu, or to prepare for a future disaster or emergency.
All the protections for U.S. workers that Sablan wrote into his U.S. Workforce Act last year—from being passed over for jobs or from having their wages reduced by competition from foreign workers—will apply to the new disaster recovery workers.
The workers can be recruited from any country on the Department of Homeland Security’s approved list for 2018, which includes the Philippines.
Sablan introduced the Disaster Recovery Workforce Act in September, after it became apparent that a lack of construction workers was slowing recovery. Both the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands made a case for the extra workforce and supported Sablan’s bill.
Sablan pushed the bill through the House Natural Resources Committee earlier this month with bipartisan agreement. He secured a waiver of jurisdiction from the House Judiciary Committee for his bill 10 days ago and has been pushing for inclusion as a rider in the fiscal year 2020 appropriation ever since.
FEMA officials, who broke ground on the first house in their Permanent Housing Construction program in September, noted that a lack of workers was a constraint. FEMA had briefed Sablan six months earlier of their plans to start the program and build brand-new, concrete houses for as many as 500 families. Some families have dropped off the waiting list because of the delay in starting the program.
“Now that a lack of workers should not be a problem, I want to see FEMA speed things up. People need to get out of the tents and into real houses that can withstand any future storms,” Sablan said. “The Disaster Recovery Workforce Act makes that possible.” (PR)