Delegate Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (Ind-MP) has published his biannual Report to Constituents. The four-page, newspaper style report highlights the work of the Marianas congressional office so far in the 115th U.S. Congress and previews issues that will be a focus in the next, 116th Congress. The report is mailed to over 16,000 residents and can also be picked up at the congressional offices on Rota, Tinian, and Saipan. Online readers can find the report at the official congressional website https://sablan.house.gov.
“This is our fifth report to Constituents,” Sablan said. “As usual, there is a lot of news to pack into four pages. There are stories about the new laws we enacted, the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act, Public Law 115-218, and the Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act, Public Law 115-53.
“There is an update on the water funding that we have to get reauthorized every fiscal year. We are up to $73 million total over the last nine years; and you can see how that money is making 24-hour water possible on Saipan.
“There are also updates about how funding that we got into federal law in previous Congresses is now being used in our schools and to increase benefits for families who need help from the nutritional assistance program. So much of what we do in Congress has more than a one-time effect. It keeps paying off year after year,” added Sablan.
Vets a focus in the 115th Congress
Almost an entire page of the report is devoted to Sablan’s work for veterans. At the beginning of this Congress, Sablan asked for and received a special waiver to join the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, adding a third committee to his portfolio. Members are generally limited to serving on two committees, but the Democratic leadership sometimes makes exceptions for those who have served in Congress for a number of years and have a proven track record of keeping up with multiple responsibilities.
“Even without membership on Veterans’ Affairs, I was able to add a feasibility study for expanding the Saipan Exchange store in Public Law 111-383, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act,” Sablan recalls. “That feasibility study proved the need and the expanded Exchange is now open.
“But our veterans and active military and their families deserved more. So, I hired Tina Sablan to be my Outreach Coordinator in 2015 and made her first responsibility to work with those in the Marianas who have served our nation. We got the House of Representatives to put a Wounded Warrior Fellow, Randy Johnson, on the Marianas congressional staff last year. And then, when the opportunity to be on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee came up, I took it.”
Legislatively, Sablan’s major accomplishment on the Veterans’ Committee is another feasibility study: to look at establishing a Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in the Marianas, staffed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He put the necessary language, Section 213, into the VA Mission Act, Public Law 115-182, this year.
“We already have part-time, VA-contracted physicians who provide health care to veterans,” said Sablan. “And we made a push to make everyone aware of the Veterans Choice program by bringing the CEO of TriWest out to Saipan, Tinian, and Rota to conduct workshops for providers and veterans. That effort tripled the number of community health care providers in the Marianas that veterans can go to and have the VA Choice program pay for.”
To support the Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, or CBOC, feasibility study, Congressman Kilili is currently conducting a veterans registration drive. The more veterans there are on record, the better the chances of getting the VA-run CBOC. He is also working to establish a Vet Center and has been advocating for the VA to hire a full-time social worker to be stationed in the Marianas.
“But our primary, long-term goal has to be a CBOC, our own health clinic,” said Sablan. “That is what I have my sights on in the next Congress, if the feasibility study gives us the green light.”
Facing the Medicaid ‘cliff’
Sablan’s report also advises constituents on what other federal policy and legislative actions lie ahead. The congressman said he is looking forward to the results of the Rota National Park study that he had authorized in Public Law 113-291. The study should be reported to the next Congress. If a Rota National Park is deemed suitable and feasible, Congress will then make the decision on whether to designate certain areas of Rota as having unique, national importance worthy of a National Park. Sablan is a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee, which will make the initial decision.
Congress will also be making decisions on whether the U.S. military will contribute to any public infrastructure on Tinian. “I know that there has been some talk about the military already agreeing to put money into ‘outside the fence’ civilian infrastructure,” Sablan said. “That is a little misleading. Congress specifically barred the military from spending any money in that way on Tinian in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. But I am looking forward to participating in those decisions in the coming years, depending on what level of military activity the Commonwealth government chooses to allow on Tinian.”
Sablan’s main concern in the next Congress, however, is the pending end of the extra Medicaid funding for the Marianas that he was able to put into Obamacare in 2010. That money expires in September 2019.
“The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. depends on Medicaid for over one-quarter of its revenues,” Sablan reports. “So, losing the extra $12 million per year that Obamacare provides is going to create a significant financial problem.
“CEO Esther Muña told me long ago that without that Obamacare money the hospital would have closed its doors, after the Commonwealth Legislature cut off funding during the Fitial administration.”
In Washington, the Marianas congressional office has already taken the lead in arranging a series of brainstorming sessions with House and Senate committee staff to address the coming “Medicaid cliff.”
“Having been in Congress in 2009 and at the meetings with President Obama when the extra Medicaid money was agreed on, I know that we cannot wait until next year to work on this problem,” Sablan said. “We are going to need hundreds of millions of dollars in offsets to continue Medicaid for the insular areas at the current levels. Even having been there and done that before, I am concerned about how difficult it will be to fix this problem.
“Especially,” Sablan added, “given that Republicans want to put a cap on Medicaid spending nationwide.” (PR)