• By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

U.S. House OKs $19.1B disaster aid bill


Capping months of political bickering, the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday passed the Senate-approved $19-billion disaster aid bill aimed at assisting communities, including Guam and the CNMI, struck by typhoons, earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters in 2018 and 2019.

H.R. 2157, which House Republicans attempted to block three times, was finally approved by a vote of 354-58 and headed to the White House for President Trump’s signature.

“Following the first failed attempt by the House to approve this measure last week, we immediately sent a letter to Congressman Michael San Nicolas and to other members of Congress, urging them to back the measure and preserve the Senate’s language that is helpful to Guam and the U.S. territories,” Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said.

CNMI Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan said he was able to include special set-asides for the CNMI worth $129.6 million in the bill.

“This is the culmination of months of work making sure the Marianas has all the resources we need to build back better than ever,” Sablan said.

According to a press release from Sablan’s office, at least another $50 million is expected from the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery, which will be added to over $100 million in CDBG-DR already allocated to the Marianas from previous legislation.

“There was a delay in the approval of this measure providing our territories and states with much-needed relief. Nonetheless, I am glad that it has overcome the latest hurdle and I am optimistic that President Trump will honor his word that he will sign the bill into law,” Lou Leon Guerrero said.

H.R. 2157 also includes language that allows Guam to draw down from the available Affordable Care Act funds without requiring the territory to put up a 45 percent local match.

“Our administration has been seeking congressional support of our Medicaid funding issues. We have sent letters, testified before Congress, and met with numerous federal officials and agencies,” Leon Guerrero said.

For the CNMI, Sablan said, his two amendments to the disaster aid bill included a $36 million allotment for the Medicaid program and $25.2 million for food aid.

“And behind the scenes negotiations produced another $56 million for solid waste facilities and $10.4 million for sewer and water infrastructure,” Sablan said. “Together with $2 million to help the Commonwealth with managing all this money, that is a total of $129.6 million – just for the Marianas.”

The bill’s deliberation made repeated references to typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu, which both hit Guam and the CNMI in 2018.

“Sablan sent a comprehensive request for inclusion to the former Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Pennsylvania), last November, cataloguing all the programs the Marianas should be made eligible for. Frelinghuysen honored many of Sablan’s requests in a December bill that passed the House,” a press release from Sablan’s office states.

“Some of the grant programs, such as CDBG-DR, will be allocated to the Marianas using a formula or information from other federal agencies,” Sablan said. “Others are more open-ended. But even the CDBG-DR money will require solid plans of expenditure from the Commonwealth government.”

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