WASHINGTON, D.C.—Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) took his sixth oath of office on Thursday last week at noon, along with the other 440 incoming members of the 116th U.S. House of Representatives.
Sablan, who is an independent candidate but is a member of the Democratic Caucus, will be in the majority bloc again for the first time since 2011, when Republicans took control of the House.
“Thanks to the people of the Mariana Islands for entrusting me to represent them in Congress for two more years,” Sablan said. “It is a truly humbling responsibility; and I work every day to use this position to my fullest ability to improve the lives of the people I work for.”
As a veteran legislator, Sablan expects to chair a subcommittee and take a leadership role over the next two years. He is a member of both the Natural Resources and the Education and Labor committees.
In addition to his widening national responsibilities as a senior member of Congress, the Marianas delegate has identified a number of priorities specific to the Marianas. He has already been successful at adding the funding for the Marianas to disaster relief legislation that passed the House before Christmas. Similar legislation helping areas hit by hurricanes, typhoons, wildfires, and other natural disasters is expected again in January. Sablan says he looks forward to putting even more help for the Marianas into a disaster bill, now that he is in the majority.
Sablan has also pledged to keep working for a more permanent status for groups of people in the Marianas, who were overlooked when Congress extended federal control of immigration to the islands in 2008. He was able to include the necessary provisions in legislation that passed the Senate with bipartisan support in 2013. The House Republican leadership refused to put that comprehensive immigration reform bill to a vote, although this week Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) suggested that the bill would be the ultimate solution to the current government shutdown stand-off with President Trump.
Other big-ticket items on Sablan’s agenda for the Marianas are more funding for Medicaid and for food stamps. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, gave the Marianas an additional $109 million for Medicaid. That money is almost used up and expires on Sept. 30. Sablan has already brought together a territories working group to address the expiring Obamacare funds. All five U.S. insular areas face the same Medicaid “cliff” this year.
Food stamp funding for the Marianas, which Sablan boosted by $31.5 million in the 2014 Agricultural Act, is also in danger of being used up this year. Thousands of Marianas families were eligible to tap into the food assistance money after Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu, drawing down available funds more quickly than planned. (PR)