House members to business group: Keep up the dialogue with feds

SEVERAL members of the House of Representatives expressed support for the efforts of local business leaders who, in collaboration with the governor’s office, are urging the U.S. Congress to address the islands’ workforce problems.

Members of the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corporation led by Alex Sablan appeared before the House on Thursday morning with the governor’s chief of staff, Matthew Deleon Guerrero.

Sablan said they will fly to Washington, D.C. on Dec. 10 to meet U.S. lawmakers and other federal officials.

Speaker Ralph Demapan said they will act on House Resolution 20-7 introduced by Rep. Angel Demapan so the CNMI delegation can show it to federal authorities. The resolution states that the effects of ending the CW program in Dec. 2019 as required by current federal law will more than likely cause irreversible damage to the CNMI economy, “impacting the livelihood of every man, woman and child.”

Rep. John Paul Sablan said there is a need to address the CW issue as it affects the government and the public it serves.

Rep. Angel Demapan will be joining the team when it presents its case in Washington, D.C.

Sablan said it is right that Demapan should go as he is the author of the resolution, and he will represent the CNMI House.

Rep. Greg Sablan, the chairman of the House Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs, said “we are at the mercy of the U.S. Congress,” adding that he admires the administration “for pushing for this as we all want to see our economy grow.”

Rep Frank Aguon said the commonwealth must have a louder voice in the nation’s capital “to make sure we are being heard.”

Rep. Joe Itibus said the facts about the islands’ workforce “are disturbing and a big concern.” He added, “What will happen to us if we lose new investments because we don’t have enough workers? We are happy that we have the trade school and the Latte Academy to train local residents, but we still need more workers to sustain our economy.”

The lack of workers, he said, “will affect the hotels, the mom-and-pop stores, construction and just about everything. And let’s not forget the nurses that our only hospital must have.”

Rep. Donald Barcinas said the CNMI should regain control over local immigration while Rep. Vinnie Sablan said CNMI leaders must work together to see a more flourishing economy.

“We must also prepare for the worst and look into alternatives and other approaches to sustain our economy,” he added.

Rep. Joe Deleon Guerrero said the local business group and the CNMI government should continue their dialogue with the federal government “so they can see the reality that the CNMI has a very limited population.”

He added, “Even though we say it’s an economic issue, I feel that some in the U.S. Congress still view this as an immigration issue. We might fall into the national debate about immigration issues. So what I want to suggest is continue the dialogue to show that we are doing our best and that we are trying to comply with the intent of the [federalization law].But we also have to tell them that the reality out here is that we have a very limited population and not everybody wants to be a construction worker, some would rather fish or farm. The most important thing to do is get them [U.S. officials] to understand that we have our limitations here. We don’t have the luxury, as they have in the United States, of easily getting the workers they need.”

Speaker Demapan said they should also ensure that training programs for the local workforce remain in place as he urged the business community to continue working with schools and other educational institution that provide training to local residents.

Rep. Frank Dela Cruz said CNMI data should be presented to the federal officials, and training programs must continue.

“But there is no way we can have enough workers in the next three to five years. It’s impossible. These are the things that have to be presented to the U.S. Congress.”

Alex Sablan said the CNMI will face economic “Armageddon” if it loses its guest workers and the visa-waiver program for Chinese and Russian tourists.

“If we lose our tourists there will be no justification for hotel rooms, the airlines and the casino industry. And if we lose our guest workers we will face economic collapse. Transition to zero [CWs] is not the answer,” he added.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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