U.S. House passes bill, includes Guam Medicaid funds
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.4 trillion spending bill that is headed to the U.S. Senate; it may be signed into law by President Donald J. Trump, according to a Dec. 18 release.

The bill contains a provision that increases Medicaid funding to Guam — $127 million annually — until September 2021. The provision also increases Guam’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentage to 83%.

Michael F.Q. San Nicolas, Guam’s delegate to Congress, said the funds are much needed for Guam. H.R. 1865 is an appropriations bill, or the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, which could result in a federal matching rate of “17% local to 83% federal for [fiscal years] 2020 and 2021.”

“With our [Guam Memorial] Hospital in desperate need of funds, this matching relief means more dollars can go directly to GMH to resolve critical issues they are facing,” said San Nicolas.

Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero issued a statement regarding the bill. “I join governors from the [U.S. territories] in thanking the House for its passage of a measure that would help millions of Americans keep the healthcare they need. After months of effort, we now have meaningful progress,” she said.


FEMA grants more recovery funds to NMI
CAPITOL HILL, Saipan — The Federal Emergency Management Agency will give $8.1 million in additional disaster grants for the Northern Mariana Islands’ ongoing Super Typhoon Yutu recovery, according to a Dec. 17 release. The funds will be distributed to 13 eligible applicants — such as the NMI Public School System — with reimbursement for eligible costs of building replacements, permanent repairs and more.

“This is very welcoming news for our residents on Saipan and Tinian. Lt. Gov. [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,” said Torres.


GHURA holds ribbon-cutting for housing units, baseball field
MANGILAO, Guam and SINAJANA, Guam — The Guam Housing and Renewal Authority held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Isla Apartments in Mangilao on Dec. 17.

The 14 housing units are part of GHURA’s Rehabilitation of Affordable Housing project. The renovation was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Home Investment Partnerships program. The project is an ongoing partnership between GHURA and CSS to provide affordable rental units to households below 80% area median income.

The building is owned by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Agana, which does business as Catholic Social Service. CSS will be in charge of the administrative and operational responsibilities for the housing units.

In other GHURA-related news, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the Sinajana Baseball Field on Dec. 13. The ceremony marks the completion of the Sinajana Recreational Facilities project, which started in 2014 with the rehabilitation of the basketball court and construction of a permanent canopy covering the court.

GHURA used Community Development Block Grant funds for completion of the project, which had a construction budget of $731,492. The Baseball Field upgrades — such as resurfacing the field and the addition of LED lights — included the development of the Sinajana Recreational Center.


New wage rates approved for H-2B visa workers
WASHINGTON, D.C. and HAGÅTÑA, Guam — The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved the H-2B visa prevailing wage rates through a biennial process using Guam’s data gathered from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Employment Statistics survey, according to a Dec. 16 release.

The rates will not change until December 2021; however, the new rates will only affect applications filed with the Guam DOL on or after Dec. 13, 2019. Rates for current approvals will remain in line with the old rates until the expiration of valid labor certification.

“We continue to face a labor shortage, even as the demand for construction projects continues to rise,” said Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero. “I am pleased that the prevailing wage rates were approved for common construction jobs.”

The new wage rates are published on the Guam DOL website, which is dol.guam.gov.


FSM President visits China, strengthens ties
BEIJING, China — David W. Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, traveled to China for a state visit from Dec. 11 to Dec. 18, according to releases from Dec. 12, Dec. 13 and Dec. 16. Panuelo was invited by Xi Jinping, president of China, along with a delegation, which included FSM Congress members; Johnson S. Elimo, governor of Chuuk; and Carson G. Sigrah, governor of Kosrae. The state visit is for the FSM-China Great Friendship and Development partnership.

Panuelo attended meetings with Jinping to further strengthen FSM-China friendship ties via signed agreements regarding economic and technical cooperation. These agreements included requests for a visa waiver for diplomats and government officials, $10 million in funds to renovate the Pohnpei State Government Complex and roadway improvement through the FSM’s Pave the Nation plan. Panuelo met with Chen Fenjian, chairman of the China Railway Construction Corp., to discuss the plan further on Dec. 14.


U.S. House passes bill that benefits NMI, Guam
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, which includes the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, according to a Dec. 12 release.

The funds for the U.S. Air Force Divert Airfield project in Tinian within the bill is set to be $316 million for a three-year period. (See Feb. 20, 2017 issue of the Journal for more details.)

Congressman Gregorio “Kilili” Camacho Sablan said the bill has provisions of specific benefit to the NMI other than the airfield project. H.R. 3428 has a provision which allows federal agencies to double the value of a contract awarded to a Puerto Rico business. The provision extends to U.S. insular areas as assistance for small businesses.

For Guam, the bill proposes a total of $310 million for military spending, which involves $226 million for construction projects at Naval Base Guam and its other facilities and $65 million for projects at Andersen Air Force Base.



Gov. Ralph DLG Torres issued a statement at the ceremony.
Photo courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency

FEMA holds ribbon-cutting ceremony for repaired home
KAGMAN, Saipan — The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the third home repaired via the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Permanent Home Construction Repair program in partnership with the Office of the Governor was held on Dec. 11.


Federal cockfighting ban enforced by AWF and AWA
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Animal Wellness Foundation and Animal Wellness Action announced a rewards program to run for an indefinite time that provides a $2,500 reward for any individual who provides critical information that results in a successful federal prosecution of an individual or set of individuals who violate the federal law against animal fighting, according to a Dec. 10 press release. The publicizing of the rewards program will concentrate on the U.S. territories, where cockfighting is explicitly outlawed by the federal regulation. 

Any information about illegal cockfighting activities can be shared by emailing [email protected], by reaching out to Leevin Taitano Camacho, the attorney general for Guam, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General at 1-800-424-9121, or the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.


Two Guam bakeries investigated by U.S. DOL
DEDEDO, Guam — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has concluded its investigation of two Guam bakeries, New Fresh Bread Bakeshop in Dededo and Café Panadero in Yigo, according to a Dec. 9 release. Both bakeries had violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime requirements and will pay $108,929 in back wages and liquidated damages to 20 employees. The U.S. DOL also assessed civil penalties totaling $7,535 against the employer, Zenaida Milano. Investigators said that Milano, owner of both bakeries, continued to pay employees their straight time rates for the overtime hours. Milano acknowledged not paying overtime, and told investigators that employees agreed with the arrangement in order to secure more hours of work. mbj