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The federal year-end spending bill, which President Trump is expected to sign soon, includes a provision that authorizes 3,000 more CW workers to pick up typhoon recovery work and to prepare for future storms in the Marianas.
The workers can be recruited from any country on the Department of Homeland Security’s approved list for 2018, which includes the Philippines, according to the Office of CNMI Congressman Gregorio Kilili Sablan. In January, the Philippines was removed from DHS’ list of countries eligible for H2B program.
Sablan’s office said H.R. 4479, the Disaster Recovery Workforce Act, was added in full during last-minute negotiations at the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed the $1.3 trillion spending bill earlier this week.
“With $244 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery monies now available, as well as Economic Development Administration grants for rebuilding our schools and programs like FEMA’s Permanent House Construction all teed up, the last thing we want is any delay caused by a lack of workers,” said Sablan, author of H.R. 4479.
“We worked very hard this year for those disaster recovery funds and now, getting the labor needed to put that money to work, should mean the Commonwealth government and private individuals and businesses in the Marianas have everything we need to finish rebuilding from Mangkhut and Yutu.”
The Disaster Recovery Workforce Act provides the 3,000 new CW permits this year and in 2021 and 2022. The CW permits may only be issued for construction work related to recovery from a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency, such as Typhoon Mangkhut or Super Typhoon Yutu, or to prepare for a future disaster or emergency.
All the protections for U.S. workers that Sablan wrote into his U.S. Workforce Act last year—from being passed over for jobs or from having their wages reduced by competition from foreign workers—will apply to the new disaster recovery workers.
Sablan introduced the Disaster Recovery Workforce Act in September, after it became apparent that a lack of construction workers was slowing recovery. Both the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands made a case for the extra workforce and supported Sablan’s bill.
FEMA officials, broke ground on the first house in their Permanent Housing Construction program in September. They acknowledged that a lack of workers would impede FEMA projects, which includes the construction of brand-new, concrete houses for 500 families displaced by last year’s typhoons that hit Saipan, Tinian and Rota.Some families have reportedly dropped off the waiting list because of the delay in starting the program.
Rep. Gregorio Kilili Sablan
“Now that a lack of workers should not be a problem, I want to see FEMA speed things up. People need to get out of the tents and into real houses that can withstand any future storms,” Sablan said. “The Disaster Recovery Workforce Act makes that possible.”
Sablan said once the bill is signed into law, he would immediately ask the U.S. Departments of Labor and Homeland Security to quickly put in place the application process for the new workers.
The U.S. Department of the Interior today announced a $2 million grant for the CNMI to streamline financial management and coordination of disaster recovery funding across local agencies and organizations receiving federal assistance as a result of impacts from Typhoon Yutu. This is in addition to the $8.1 million in new grant from FEMA, for a total of $10.1 million.
“We are grateful that Congress has provided assistance for disaster recovery in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands,” said Interior Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, Doug Domenech. “On my recent trip to the territory, I could still see houses and infrastructure that were impacted by Typhoon Yutu in 2018. The people of the CNMI will benefit from this assistance to facilitate a complete and thorough utilization of all federal funds made available to assist in disaster recovery.”
The grant made available to the CNMI will also be used to create a transparency website to track and report progress on all federal recovery program awards and recovery activities for the public and other interested parties.
Public Law 116-20, also known as the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, made funding available to several federal departments and agencies for expenses related to the consequences of recent wildfires, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, typhoons, and other natural disasters.
Earlier this week, FEMA announced more than $8.1 million in additional disaster grants for the CNMI to support ongoing Super Typhoon Yutu recovery.
“This is very welcoming news for our residents on Saipan and Tinian. Lt. Governor [Arnold] Palacios and I worked directly with Tinian Mayor [Edwin] Aldan after the typhoon on these key priorities on Tinian to repair the Tinian Public Market, the Social Hall, and other community areas,” CNMI Gov, Ralph Torres said. “We also worked with PSS, the CNMI State Board of Education, and our education stakeholders on permanent repairs for schools on both islands, as well as funding permanent repairs on critical infrastructure.”
The award will assist 13 eligible applicants with reimbursement for eligible costs of debris removal, emergency protective measures, building replacements, replacement of damaged building contents and permanent repairs.
The additional funding consists of:
$1,990,212, in federal funding to the Tinian Municipality for permanent repairs to the Tinian Public Market ($1,969,644) and the Mayors Social Hall Building ($20,568).
$1,715,895, in federal funding to the CNMI Public School System for permanent repairs to Tinian Elementary School ($609,752), Garapan Elementary School ($309,346), Saipan Southern High School ($706,372), and Saipan Administrative Buildings ($90,424).
$1,599,306, in federal funding to Saipan Municipality for permanent repairs to ten Saipan Municipality buildings (274,817), 39 SUV’s and six trucks ($208,990), As Perdido Agricultural and Dog Quarantine Faci building ($354,352) and the Parks and Recreation Facilities ($412,189) and content damage. Additionally, permanent repairsfor Saipan Municipality’s road signs and traffic control devices ($290,825) as well as 100% reimbursement for debris removal ($58,130).
$500,869, in federal funding to the Office of the Governor’s Public Assistance Office for permanent repairs to Youth Affairs ($331,532), Commonwealth Election Commission (33,570), Board of Parole (49,857), Development Disabilities Council ($22,762), and Northern Marianas Housing Corporation buildings (63,147).
$306,126, in federal funding to Saipan Community School for permanent repairs to building 1 ($20,476), building 2 ($245,460) and building 7 ($40,189) and their contents.
$1,548,723 in federal funding to the Commonwealth Ports Authority for permanent repairs to the Tinian Sea and Air Port building and building components ($294,028) as well as 100% reimbursement for emergency protective measures ($1,254,695).
$157,672, in federal funding to Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) for the replacement of vehicles and equipment repairs.
$135,391, in federal funding to Northern Marianas College for permanent repairs to Tinian buildings and a vehicle.
$68,715, in federal funding to Grace Christian Academy for permanent repairs to the building