WASHINGTON, D.C.—Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) took his oath of office in Washington, D.C. at 7pm. yesterday to serve as representative of the people of the Mariana Islands in the 117th U.S. Congress.
This will be Sablan’s seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The House convened at noon as required by the U.S. Constitution. Following a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, each member registered their presence to establish that a quorum was present. The House then elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to continue to serve as Speaker; and she swore in the members in small groups in order to maintain social distancing in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, one newly-elected representative, Luke Letlow, a Louisiana Republican, died of the disease.
“The most important work for this Congress,” Sablan said, “will be to help everyone living in our country get beyond the crisis caused by [COVID-19], to stay healthy and to recover our economy.”
Congress passed last month another round of COVID-19 relief, investing in vaccine distribution, extending unemployment insurance and business loans, providing one-time cash payments of $600 to individuals, and funding schools. The House, also, voted to increase the cash payments to $2,000, although the Republican-led Senate refused to agree. President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, has already said he will ask Congress for more economic assistance for Americans struggling to cope with the pandemic.
Sablan said that he will be focused nationally on making sure students can continue their education. “I will be asking my colleagues on the House Education and Labor Committee to allow me to continue serving as chair of the Subcommittee on Early Education, Elementary and Secondary Schools,” Sablan said. “Taking stock of how school closures and remote learning is impacting students and taking action to help them keep learning will be our first concern.”
The recently enacted COVID-19 relief law contained about $69 million for the CNMI Public School System, which will “guarantee that all of our classroom teachers and support staff will not experience a single payless payday,” according to Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred B. Ada.
Medicaid, food aid need to be funded
Sablan will also continue to focus on basic safety net programs, where Americans in the Marianas and other insular areas are not treated the same as Americans elsewhere in the country.
“We were successful at getting Medicaid funding for the Marianas increased by $120 million for this year and last and substantially lowered the local match requirement,” Sablan said. “But now we have to come back to chair Frank Pallone of the Energy and Commerce Committee and chair Anna Eshoo of the Health Subcommittee and ask for funding for next year.
“It would be more sensible simply to include the Marianas in the national Medicaid program, instead of taking this band-aid approach,” Sablan said. “I will certainly be working with the incoming Biden administration, too. After all, the Obama-Biden fiscal year 2017 budget proposal called for including the Marianas in Medicaid, just like a state. Now is the time to follow through.”
Sablan said the Marianas should also be included in the SNAP, the national food aid program. “We added $25 million for Marianas food aid in the disaster relief law in 2019, $2 million this year in the CARES Act, another $12 million in the fiscal year 2021 continuing resolution, and $14 million in December’s COVID relief, but the uncertainty about how much money there will be and whether it will be enough is unfair to the people in the Marianas who need this help.
“The best answer is to include the Marianas in SNAP; and that will be my goal in the 117th Congress,” Sablan said. (PR)