Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that in a letter dated February 13 he has updated ASG regarding the final outcome of the conference report to accompany H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Faleomavaega’s letter was address to the Governor, the Senate President, and the Speaker. Faleomavaega copied his letter to Senator Daniel Inouye, the Lieutenant Governor, the Senators, and Representatives. The full text of the Congressman’s letter is included below:
Dear Governor, Mr. President, and Mr. Speaker:
As a follow up to my letters of January 27 and 28, 2009, I am writing to provide you with information regarding the final outcome of the conference report to accompany H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which passed today by a vote of 246 yeas, 183 nays, and 1 present, and will now be sent to President Obama for signature.
While the conferees were unable to provide a separate funding stream for the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), the territories will receive funding under many of the programs in the bill which will be provided by the various federal agencies including the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Social Security Administration.
For a recession adjustment period that begins with the first quarter of FY2009 and runs through the first quarter of FY2011, the Recovery Act would increase Medicaid caps in the territories by 30%. It would allow each territory to choose between an FMAP (Federal Medical Assistance Percentage) increase of 6.2 percentage points along with a 15% increase in its spending cap, or its regular FMAP along with a 30% increase in its spending cap. American Samoa’s Food Stamp program will be increased by 13.6%.
The territories will receive approximately $45 million for highway infrastructure investment, which will be distributed according to formula, and American Samoa will receive approximately $4.5 million. The territories are also eligible for competitive broadband grants.
Over $268 million will be provided to the territories from the U.S. Department of Education based on needs in each respective territory to be determined by the Secretary of Education in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior. These funds are to be expended by the Governors in support of elementary, secondary, and higher education and the Secretary of Education retains discretion in allocating the funds for purposes he identifies as consistent with the authority provided by the bill for expenditure of such stabilization funding in the 50 States and the District of Columbia. Institutions of higher education are eligible to receive funds for the purpose of mitigating the need to raise tuition and fees, or for the modernization, renovation, or repair of academic facilities.
The territories will receive about $10 million in Clean Water State Revolving Funds, $6.6 million for Safe Drinking Water, and additional funds from other federal programs including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). According to an analysis made by the Northeast-Midwest Institute of the formula for distribution, American Samoa may also receive about $18.5 million for the State Energy Program authorized under Part D of title II of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act.
Language has also been included which directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on the impact of past and future minimum wage increases in American Samoa and CNMI. I have publicly thanked Senator Daniel K. Inouye for inserting this language at our request, and I have also thanked Chairman David R. Obey of the House Committee on Appropriations and Chairman George Miller of the House Committee on Education and Labor for their acceptance of the proposed Senate language. While American Samoa Chamber of Commerce president David Robinson may disagree with Senator Inouye’s approach and the desire of Congress to have accurate information upon which to make an informed decision about wage rates in American Samoa and CNMI, I submit that it is critical for us to have hard facts and statistical information in order to know if our canneries and local businesses can afford to pay our workers further increases.
On repeated occasions, I have requested this information from ASG and from our local Chamber of Commerce because, until we have compelling evidence to do so, Congress will not and should not rollback minimum wage. By way of this letter, I am again requesting this information from ASG, our local Department of Commerce, and our local Chamber of Commerce. For your information, I am also enclosing a copy of Chairman Miller and Senator Ted Kennedy’s letter to former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao in which they expressed their disappointment and concerns regarding her Department’s failure to provide Congress with the information it needed to assess the impact of recently increased minimum wages on the economies of American Samoa and CNMI. I am hopeful that this letter will be useful to you as we work together to determine a course of action that is fair to our workers and our local businesses.
As you know, up until two years ago, our workers were denied any significant increases in their wages for almost forty years, and the Special Industry Committees administered by the U.S. Department of Labor made a mockery of what should have been a real, concerted and honest effort to determine wage rates for our industries operating in the territory. Because of this mockery, Congress took action and increased the wages of our workers making less than $5.15 per hour, which were mostly private sector workers because a vast number of our government workers are already paid near national minimum wage levels. So far, our economy has sustained two increases of $0.50 cents per hour for these workers. Can we sustain a third increase? I do not know the answer to this question. This is why I have called for a serious study of the problem because, like Mr. Robinson, I believe enough is enough. The time has come for the Chamber, ASG, and our canneries to provide the GAO with the information it needs for Congress to determine whether or not our economy can or cannot afford future increases.
As a result of today’s passage of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congress has delivered on President Obama’s historic plan to get the American economy back on track. However, I am very concerned by StarKist Samoa and Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing’s recent announcements to cut back on employee benefits in American Samoa due to the global economic crisis. To offset the canneries’ cutbacks, I am hopeful that when ASG re-negotiates any pending lease agreements with the two canneries that ASG will include provisions to protect our workers’ benefits, especially given that we do not have unions in American Samoa to represent our workers’ rights during these negotiations. Also, given that American Samoa continues to be a single-industry economy dependent almost entirely on the tuna fishing and processing industries, I am hopeful that ASG will use the federal funds provided by the Recovery Act to put in place a plan to diversify and jumpstart our local economy based on the findings of the American Samoa Economic Study Commission which issued its report in 2002.