General

A slap in the NMI’s face

U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan on Monday said the Trump administration’s decision to cut the CW-1 numerical cap by half and to conduct a lottery for approval of applications is “terrible for the CNMI economy.”

The CW cap, which was 12,998 in fiscal year 2017, was reduced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to 9,998 in FY 2018 and to 4,999 in FY 2019, which starts on Oct. 1, 2018.

 “It was a slap in the face of everyone in the Marianas who made the effort and expense to send CW applications when the window opened on April 2,” Kilili said, noting that many local businesses sent representatives to California just to submit their CW applications on time.

Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan

The Torres administration said it wants to “ensure that true fairness and equity are given to those who are driving the CNMI’s economic progress.”

 But “we need an act of Congress to ensure that U.S. workers are protected and our community continues its economic progress.”

Asked about the CNMI’s response to the USCIS decision, the Torres administration said: “On our end, we continue to keep close discussions with leaders in Congress and are looking forward to the passage of S. 2325 [the NMI U.S. Workforce Act] so that further economic harm to the CNMI can be prevented.”

Kilili said USCIS did not have to cut the CW cap “by that much as there is no legal requirement to do so.” USCIS, he added, could have reduced it by one as he had asked and was granted on two occasions by the Obama administration.

Kilili said USCIS’ recent decision was made under the Trump administration which the Torres administration claimed to be a friend of the CNMI.

Kilili said President Trump appears to be ignoring what has been happening in the U.S. Congress, where S.2325 or the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act was introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Kilili said the bill has a good chance of passing the U.S. Senate.

 “I can tell you that the bill which was the result of 18 months of discussions and negotiations looks good in the Senate. And when it gets to the House we are going to work hard to pass it,” he added.

But he is also hoping that CNMI politicians who went to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to nominate Trump would now use their influence to prevent the Trump administration from doing what is “completely unnecessary and extremely harmful.”

On March 20, Kilili said S. 2325 was placed on Senate calendar for action.

Good news

He noted that with 37 Republican House members, many of whom are committee chairmen “retiring” this year, U.S. Democrats are likely to win a majority of the U.S. House seats this November.

 Kilili, an Independent who caucuses with the U.S. Democrats, said even the Republican speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, is “getting out.”

Kilili said U.S. Democrats need to win 24 seats to assume control of the U.S. House.

When that happens, Kilili said, his seniority (10 years and five terms) would make him chairman of an education subcommittee or a subcommittee with jurisdiction over insular affairs or veterans affairs.

He said once Democrats become the majority party in the U.S. House, “it would be much different than when I was a freshman.”

He said as a senior member of the majority, he could set the agenda and move the bills he wants to move. Kilili said he has a  good record working with Republican members of Congress “but I expect to do even more as a leader in the Democratic majority.”

Bad news

Kilili at the same time said the new Farm Bill that U.S. Republicans introduced last week would not provide extra funding for the CNMI food stamp program.

He said discussions on the Agriculture Committee, which he described as one of the most bipartisan committees in Congress, have stopped.

Last month Kilili expressed concern that the CNMI’s unspent funds for food assistance were affecting his effort to get more money for the local program.

He has asked the House Agriculture Committee for $42.5 million to be authorized under the Farm Bill, but the committee was concerned about the unspent $18.4 million in Enhanced Nutrition Assistance Program Farm Bill pilot funds, and $4.1 million in regular Nutrition Assistance Program grant that was carried forward to fiscal year 2018.

“The last time I was here I said that having so much unspent [funds] makes it so hard to extend funding I got for us in the 2014 Farm Bill into the new Farm Bill. Unfortunately, I was right,” he said.

But Kilili said he was very pleased with the local Nutrition Assistance Program’s announcement that its plan to extend increased income eligibility and increase benefit levels has been approved.

Kilili said this will allow more people to qualify for food assistance.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture-Food and Nutrition Service report last month indicated it was cutting benefits, Kilili said.

But now it has announced an increase “which is exactly what I wanted so I thank and commend them for their work in providing food to people who need it.”

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/103742-a-slap-in-the-nmi-s-face

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