Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) has called the attention of the Biden administration about the need for enough skilled labor or CNMI-Only Transitional Workers (CW-1) to build many federally funded infrastructure projects in the CNMI.
In his e-kilili newsletter over the weekend, Sablan said a focus of this year’s meeting between the Biden administration and insular area governors and members of U.S. Congress was the infrastructure development that Congress has funded in the American Rescue Plan Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and other pandemic-related legislation.
At the annual Interagency Group on Insular Areas meeting in Washington D.C. last Tuesday, Sablan brought attention to the CNMI’s need for sufficient labor to put the hundreds of millions of federal dollars to work building water and sewer systems, upgrading schools and medical facilities, hardening power production and delivery, and improving transportation.
Sablan said the U.S. Congress will certainly need to extend beyond fiscal year 2022 the 3,000 CW-1 visas he provided for construction workers in Public Law 116-94.
“I ask the administration [to] support that effort,” he said.
At the same meeting, citing a shortage in manpower to perform large-scale projects, among other things, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres underscored the need to have the permanent allotment of 3,000 CW-1 permits to support construction activities in the CNMI.
In his remarks that Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig delivered on behalf of Torres, the governor pushed for permanent allocation of 3,000 CW-1 permits to the CNMI during the transition period of the CW Visa Program. Torres wants the 3,000 CW-1 permits to be separate from any presidentially-declared disasters in the CNMI. Torres was unable to personally deliver his remarks after recently tested positive for COVID-19.
In his e-kilili newsletter last weekend, Sablan said he also called at the meeting for greater federal involvement to keep an eye on the money and ensure local leaders spend it effectively to address the threat of climate change and raise the quality of life for residents of the islands.
The delegate reported substantial progress on loss of Medicaid funding, which was the one issue that all insular areas raised at the last Interagency Group on Insular Areas meeting in 2020. He noted that Congress solved the funding problem with a large and permanent increase—$64 million for the Marianas this year in Public Law 116-94.
Sablan said he asked White House director of Intergovernmental Affairs Julie Rodriguez and other Biden officials to continue to support the 17% Medicaid local match rate that Congress also included in Public Law 116-94, which must be renewed this year.
He also asked the Biden administration to prioritize renegotiations of the Compacts of Free Association with the Pacific neighbors, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia.