US Senate negotiators release first draft of recovery bill
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senate negotiators released draft legislation yesterday with relief for workers and families nationwide coping with job loss and other economic impacts of the coronavirus. Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said the Senate draft bill includes weekly payments to unemployed workers in the Marianas similar to the Disaster Unemployment Assistance provided after typhoons.
Taxpayers will also receive a one-time payment of $1,200 for an individual or $2,400 for joint filers with an additional $500 for each child. The cost of the rebate will be covered over to the Marianas by the U.S. Treasury.
And $100 million is set-aside in an Education Stabilization Fund for schools in the Marianas, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Airlines also receive a subsidy to maintain service, including to remote and rural areas.
Sablan has been in Washington, D.C. since last week, working on getting the economic needs of the Marianas addressed in the third coronavirus legislation being negotiated in Congress. He set out four broad principles to help the Marianas in a letter Wednesday to House leadership, including:
• Direct aid to the Marianas government similar to the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund used in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act during the financial crisis of 2009.
• Direct aid to workers who lose their jobs, with a recommendation to use Disaster Unemployment Assistance as a model for places like the Marianas that do not have state unemployment insurance systems.
• Aid for industries that support tourism with provision that smaller, less profitable markets like the Marianas are not abandoned by airlines.
• Cover-over of federal funds for tax-based relief directly to the Marianas and other areas where federal income taxes are not required.
Sablan also had his policy requirements made part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus position on what needed to be in the third coronavirus relief legislation.
Sablan also took the lead on letters to Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer on Saturday, asking for additional help for health care in the insular areas and advocating for use of Disaster Unemployment Assistance in places like the Pacific insular areas without unemployment insurance systems. All the other insular delegates signed on to Sablan’s letter.
On-track, but more is needed
“I think we are on track to get the help I asked for the Marianas,” Sablan said, after reviewing the Senate’ 580-page draft bill. “Most important, of course, is ‘household liquidity,’ making sure families have money to feed themselves and pay their bills. Weekly unemployment checks and the one-time tax rebate are a step in the right direction.
“But this is just a first draft and just the Senate’s position,” Sablan added, “[House] Speaker Pelosi and all of us in the Democratic Caucus will be asking for even more help for workers and families, who are trying to cope with the devastating effects of the coronavirus.”
Sablan said the funding for the Marianas Public School System is particularly welcome. PSS has announced it will be laying off all its workers on April 3, unless Sablan is able to get schools some financial assistance. (PR)