Marianas will be eligible for dozens of federal programs—Kilili

One of the highlights is $70M for Medicaid with 17% local match

After weeks of negotiation among Democrats, the draft of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act was released last Thursday with legislative language that will make the CNMI eligible for dozens of federal programs, including $70 million for Medicaid with 17% local match, to help continue to build back better, according to Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) over the weekend.

Sablan said in his e-kilili newsletter that H.R. 5376 is rich in help for the people of the CNMI and that includes more funding and a permanently lower local match for Medicaid, extension of the Child Tax Credit, and pre-kindergarten education and child care for working parents.

Sablan said his College Access Act, which provides in-state tuition nationwide for CNMI students, and his Employment Services and Job Parity Act and Job Corps Nationwide Act are all part of the draft bill.

“Although the politics of enactment remain tricky, agreement seems in reach,” he said.

On Medicaid, Sablan said they raised Marianas funding to $60 million in U.S. Public Law 116-94 two years ago and, with the inflation adjustment, funding for fiscal year 2022 is set at $64 million. Section 30731 of the Build Better Act raises that even more, to $70 million, he said.

Medicaid provides health insurance for 38,000 individuals in the CNMI.

Sablan said the draft Build Back Better Act also makes permanent the current ratio of 83% federal:17% local share for Medicaid—a ratio that he described as better than for any state in the nation.

Sablan said the other highlight in the draft bill is the $1 billion per Covenant Capital Improvement Projects agreement. He said Section 70901 of the Build Back Better Act appropriates $1 billion for critical infrastructure in insular areas (the CNMI, Guam, American Samoa, and U.S. Virgin Islands).

At Sablan’s suggestion, the money will be distributed in the same manner as Covenant CIP funds.

For the current fiscal year, the Office of Insular Affairs has projected the CNMI will receive 33% of Covenant funding, Sablan said.

He said Section 110004 also adds another $6.4 million per year for Marianas highways.

The other highlight is the in-state tuition for Marianas college students. Bachelor’s degree students from the Marianas would be eligible for up to $15,000 per year to make up the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition in public colleges nationwide.

Sablan introduced his College Access Act in 2011 and he said it is now included in Section 20027 of the draft Build Back Better Act, expanded to include Guam, American Samoa, and U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Freely Associated States.

In addition, Section 20021 increased the annual Pell grant for low-income students by $550 per year, he said.

The other highlight is that child tax credit is extended. He said families in the CNMI and nationwide will continue to receive the enhanced Child Tax Credit that they included in the American Rescue Plan Act through 2022.

CTC is $3,000 per child for children from age 6 through 17, and $3,600 for children under age 6. The credit is fully refundable, so even if the credit exceeds a family’s tax liability, they receive the full amount.

Sablan said Section 137102 of the Build Back Better Act also includes the cover-over provision and administrative expenses for advance payment that he was able to include in ARPA, so the program costs the CNMI government nothing.

The other highlight is child care and universal preschool. Sablan said the Marianas will share $1 billion with Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to provide a high-quality, free, pre-kindergarten program for young learners.

He said licensed child care providers, Head Start, or the Marianas Public School System could all participate in the mixed delivery model that Section 23002 of the Build Back Better Act proposes.

As chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, Sablan said that establishing this national pre-K program has been a long-held goal, in keeping with his belief that education is a key to success in life.

He said Section 23001 also provides $500 million for the Marianas and the three smaller territories to implement a new child care program for children from birth to age 5. Eligible families earning under 75% of the median income would pay nothing for child care.

Sablan’s last highlight is protecting the Marianas from climate change. Although the islands are responsible for little of the greenhouse gases that are causing this problem, the Build Back Better Act gives the CNMI a way to be part of the solution, Sablan said. He said Section 71002 requires the Department of the Interior to hold offshore wind lease sales in federal waters around the islands, which could reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

He said Section 136302 provides a 30% tax credit for installation of residential solar and wind systems.

He said the Build Back Better Act makes up to $7,500 in tax credits available for purchase of a new electric vehicle, up to $4,000 for a used EV, and a 30% credit for electric bikes.

Sablan said the federal government covers all the costs for technical assistance to help the insular areas continue planning for climate change mitigation, adaptation, and resilience in the years ahead.

Congress will continue work on the Build Back Better Act this week to ensure that priorities are met and that the bill pays for itself, he said.

“Solidifying agreement among Democrats is essential for passage,” Sablan said, expressing belief that all Republicans will vote against this bill.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

Related Posts

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.