WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. House of Representatives concluded negotiations and passed a federal spending bill for fiscal year 2022 yesterday that contains nine of Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s requests for community projects in the Marianas—worth $4,527,533—that is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by the President within a few days.
In addition to the $4.5 million earmarked for the Marianas, Sablan was also able to keep funding for the Nutrition Assistance Program at $30 million, the same as in the fiscal 2021 spending bill and more than double the $12 million the Marianas was previously receiving.
“We were also able to keep the Marianas’ matching rate for federal Medicaid money at 17%,” Sablan said. “This is lower than the matching rate for all but one state government.
“Together with the increased funding for Medicaid—$64 million this year—the low local match will ensure over 15,000 people in the Marianas continue to receive health care through Medicaid.” Sablan increased the legal limit for Marianas Medicaid from about $6 million to $60 million in U.S. Public Law 116-94 two years ago. The money is adjusted each year based on rising costs.
Also important to the Marianas in this year’s federal spending bill is a $400 boost in Pell grants, a 6% increase in public school funding, continuation of a 1.5% set-aside for water and sewer money worth $7.2 million, and $11 million for grants to lower the cost of electricity in the insular areas.
Sablan was able to include in the bill nine of his requests for community projects in the Marianas. Recipients include:
Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.
• $980,639 for IT upgrades to increase interoperability between islands and facilitate patient record storage, allowing for greater use of telehealth.
• $391,500 to expand home dialysis on Rota.
• $1,200,000 to renovate and modernize laboratory facilities to meet national standards and codes.
Public School System
• $150,000 for school library expansion, including a district-wide e-library.
• $150,000 to collect body mass index data school-wide and use that information to encourage young people to stay physically active.
• $350,000 to expand the successful language and cultural heritage immersion program of Kagman Elementary School to more public elementary schools.
Northern Marianas College
• $952,394 for an innovation incubator at the College’s Small Business Development Center.
• $50,000 for a generator and housing for Guma Esperansa.
• $303,000 to determine the viability of a mental health treatment court with a specific docket for veterans.
“This year for the first time since 2010 members of Congress have agreed to allow direct funding for specific organizations in our home districts,” Sablan said. “I want to thank all these organizations that submitted their proposals to me. …Because of their high quality, appropriators accepted nine of the 10 project proposals we submitted—an excellent batting average.”
Sablan is already compiling project ideas to submit to the House Appropriations Committee in the next weeks for fiscal 2023 earmarks.
Good news for health and nutrition
The Commonwealth government will be able to access $64,010,000 in federal Medicaid funds this year with only a 17% local match under terms of yesterday’s bill. This local match is lower than every state’s except Mississippi’s and would otherwise have reverted to 38.8%, more than doubling the cost of Medicaid for the Commonwealth government.
The 17% match is effective only through Dec. 13, 2022, but Sablan has successfully led the insular area delegation in lobbying to keep the match at this level. They had it extended in October, December, and February in continuing resolutions, as well as in yesterday’s full-year funding measure.
The Commonwealth will also continue to have the benefit of substantially increased funding, $30 million, for its NAP.
Last October, about 2,000 more Marianas families became eligible for food assistance and benefits increased 23% because of the $30 million Sablan included in the American Rescue Plan for Marianas food aid.
For a family of four on Saipan the monthly benefit maximum rose to $1,231, on Rota and the Northern Islands $1,498, and on Tinian $1,301. Benefits were then higher than in the contiguous 48 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Yesterday’s funding should allow benefits to continue at that level.
Also important for health is continuation of 1.5% set-aside for the Marianas and other insular areas from funding administered by the Environmental Protection Agency under terms of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Sablan has kept the set-aside at 1.5% in annual appropriations since 2010, even though the statutory set-aside is only .25% and .33% for the two programs. From the set-aside the Marianas should receive about $7.2 million for water and sewer infrastructure.
Increased funding for college students and public schools
Pell grants will rise $400 because of the FY22 appropriation. College students will be eligible for up to $6,895 in academic year 2022-2023.
Over 80% of Northern Marianas College students receive the maximum Pell grant, college officials told Sablan at a meeting in Washington in February. The money is an important mainstay of NMC finances.
Public elementary and secondary schools, too, will see an increase of approximately 6% for fiscal year 2022.
Congress also used the must-pass nature of the omnibus spending bill to piggyback $13.6 billion emergency funding for security and humanitarian needs for Ukraine, which has been under attack by neighboring Russia for two weeks, and to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. (PR)