WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. House of Representatives passed Friday (Saturday, Saipan time) the bipartisan infrastructure bill, drafted and approved in the Senate earlier this year, sending the bill to President Joe Biden for signature. Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will contribute substantially to the ongoing modernization and rebuilding of the Northern Marianas.
The reauthorization of surface transportation programs and other “hard” infrastructure provides about $1.2 trillion over the next five years, including $550 billion in new spending. It makes investments in roads, public transit, rural broadband, airports, water and wastewater systems, and other traditional capital improvement projects.
The Northern Marianas will see nearly $24 million through the Territorial Highway Program over the five-year period. Another $7 million is expected to go to the CNMI public transit system based on formula funding alone. And the Commonwealth will be eligible to compete for $7.5 billion for road projects, particularly those that focus on climate change mitigation and resilience and user safety, including cyclists and pedestrians.
“Also important, will be funding to make broadband more available and more affordable in the Marianas,” Sablan said. Median speeds in the Commonwealth are well below the Federal Communications Commission’s benchmark for minimally acceptable broadband, according to the White House. “The Marianas will receive at least $25 million to help improve broadband services.”
In addition, Northern Marianas families with incomes up 200% of the federal poverty level will be eligible for a new $30 per month broadband subsidy and a $100 device subsidy to help connect to the internet.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act aims to modernize U.S. airports. The Commonwealth Ports Authority can expect approximately $30 million to increase safety and make these gateways to the Marianas more comfortable and efficient.
The Commonwealth can also look for $24 million in new money for water infrastructure. Sablan has made federal funding for water and wastewater infrastructure a particular focus of his work in Congress. Annual funding for Marianas water systems was less than $1 million, when Sablan was first elected in 2009. He was quickly able to change funding formulas and has raised $88.59 million since then, bringing 24-hour water to Saipan.
Sablan received a call shortly after Saturday night’s vote from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), thanking him for his leadership and support. As the senior representative from the U.S. insular areas, Sablan often takes responsibility for bringing insular concerns to Pelosi and other House leaders, when major legislation is being drafted. (PR)