Rep. Angel Demapan says Kilili’s bill is short-term remedy only

REPRESENTATIVE Angel Demapan, vice chairman of the House Committee on Foreign and Federal Affairs, said H.R. 339 introduced by U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan could provide a short-term remedy in fiscal year 2017 for the CNMI’s workforce problems.

Early today, Friday, CNMI time, Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to testify on the measure which proposes to increase the CW cap from 12,298 to 15,000 in FY 2017 and raise the supplemental education fee from $150 to $200.

The U.S. House has already passed the bill which is now pending in the U.S. Senate.

Also testifying before the committee chaired by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski were Kilili, CNMI businessman Jim Arenovski, acting Interior Assistant Secretary Nik Pula and David Gootnick, director of international affairs and trade of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

In an interview on Thursday, Demapan said the governor’s appearance before the committee may indicate that the U.S. Senate will act on the bill very soon.

He also noted the “swift action” of the U.S. Senate to schedule the hearing.

“H.R. 339 will increase the supplemental education fee charged to a prospective employer for each CW worker from $150 to $200. This is good as it will result in additional funds for the CNMI government’s effort to train and prepare U.S. citizens to enter our resident workforce,” Demapan said.

However, he added, even if the bill becomes law, CNMI businesses will again face the same workforce challenges in fiscal year 2018. If not extended by the U.S. Congress, the CW program ends in Dec. 2019.

“With almost half of the year already gone, I’m not quite sure how much reprieve businesses will realize as a result of the bill’s passage,” Demapan said. “Moreover, since the increase ends at the end of 2017, this just means that come 2018, businesses will again find it challenging to compete for CW slots for skilled workers not readily available in our resident workforce pool. To date, we’ve seen businesses struggle to provide goods and services because of the labor shortage, so it’s critical that legislation also take into account our labor needs beyond 2017.”

Demapan said H.R. 339 is not enough. The CNMI really needs to push for the long-term solution proposed in the 902 report, he added, referring to the recommendations of the CNMI and Obama White House 902 teams that were submitted to the U.S. Congress.

Among the recommendations are the extension of the CW program beyond 2019, and an increase in the CW cap from 12,998 to 18,000.

Demapan was one of the members of the CNMI 902 team while the federal team was headed by then-Interior Assistant Secretary Esther Kia’aina.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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