Kilili: House-approved disaster bill a very good start

Over $100M for Marianas recovery

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. House of Representatives has approved disaster assistance for the Marianas and other areas of the United States struck by hurricanes, typhoons, wildfires, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions in 2018.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) began working to include the Marianas in the disaster supplemental bill immediately after Super Typhoon Yutu devastated Tinian and Saipan.

Incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi assured him of her support days after Yutu and the incoming chairman of the House Appropriations Committee did the same in a call on Nov. 10. Since then Sablan has worked both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill to secure recovery money.

The Marianas would get well over $100 million if the House-passed bill, H.R. 695, becomes law. But what happens next is uncertain. The bill contains a controversial $5 billion to fund portions of a border wall between Mexico and the U.S. at the request of President Trump. It passed the House 217 to 185, but needs 60 votes to clear the Senate.

“Whether the bill is enacted now or whether this bill is the basis for action when Democrats are in the majority next month, we have made a very good start,” Sablan said. “It does not have everything I want, but we can build on this bill. I want to thank especially Appropriations chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen and ranking member Nita Lowey for their help.”

This is the first time the Marianas has ever been included in a disaster appropriation that provides money above and beyond what the Federal Emergency Management Agency brings to a recovery effort.

There is over $1.1 billion for the community development fund of the Department of Housing and Urban Development that the Marianas will qualify for, as one of the areas most impacted by a disaster in 2018. Another $300 million is available for grants from the Department of Commerce. The money can be used for long-term recovery efforts, restoration of infrastructure and housing, and economic revitalization. And there is $20 million set aside for highway repairs in any of the four smaller territories—American Samoa, Guam, the Marianas, or the Virgin Islands—hit by a storm this year.

$56M for Rota, Tinian, Saipan landfills
Sablan also lobbied hard for money to deal with all the debris created by typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu. He got $56 million for the Marianas, enough for new sanitary landfills on Rota and Tinian and to open a new cell at the existing Marpi landfill on Saipan.

The supplemental appropriation also provides $50 million to help restart schools and institutions of higher learning, like Northern Marianas College. “That is not nearly enough,” said Sablan. “Last year’s disaster bill for areas hit by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and by wildfires had $2.7 billion. We need to add more to this year’s bill for our schools.”

Sablan said there was also more work to do on restoring funds for the Marianas Nutritional Assistance Program. “According to the Department of Agriculture, NAP has already spent over $10.2 million helping Marianas families in need of food. But the disaster bill only has $8.5 million for NAP. Plus, we must think about the costs in the months ahead. There will be many new families eligible for assistance because they have lost income after the typhoons.”

Other relief funding the Marianas would be eligible for includes money for the airport, public transportation, Head Start, community health centers, National Parks, and crop losses. The Legal Service Corporation also gets $5 million for its local branches, like Micronesian Legal Services, that aided typhoon survivors.

“Understand that this disaster money is part of a larger—and very contentious—effort to fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal year 2019. It is by no means a done deal,” Sablan cautioned.

“But we have been able for the first time to get the Marianas into a disaster supplemental—right alongside Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, California—all the states that suffered this year. That makes me very hopeful we will be able to get substantial additional federal help for our islands to recover from Mangkhut and Yutu.” (PR)

Press Release
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