Senate Committee holds hearing on state of US territories
The United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to examine the state of the US territories—American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Senator Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia, chairman of the committee, highlighted efforts Congress took to ensure the territories were included in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In June 2020, while still early in the pandemic, this committee held a hearing focused on the impact of COVID-19 and the response in the territories. I applaud each government for quickly and effectively responding to the pandemic and for a successful vaccine rollout. I know that the decisions you have made are difficult when considering how they impact your tourism-reliant economies. In response to the pandemic, Congress passed a number of funding bills to provide relief from the impacts of COVID-19. In passing these pieces of legislation, we made sure the funding provisions would work for the territories,” Senator Manchin said.
Throughout the hearing, all five territorial governors praised how the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act helped and are helping them tackle the issues and challenges facing their constituents.
“I would like to thank you, Chairman Manchin, Ranking Member Marshall, and all members of the committee for your role in passing the American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill in 2021. This funding has allowed us to realize what we’ve hoped and dreamed of,” said Governor Lemanu P.S. Mauga (D) of American Samoa.
“With the help of Congress and this committee, we have endured the worst of the pandemic, and our tourism sector—nearly one-third of our economy—is thriving again. The cruise ships are back, air passenger arrivals nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021, and all but one of our major resorts have reopened. Our overall revenues are up and our debt burden is down,” said Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. (D) of the US Virgin Islands.
“The people of the Commonwealth [of the Northern Mariana Islands] and I are extremely grateful for the assistance we have received in the American Rescue Plan Act and thank the members of this Committee for your support of the needs of the territories… The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and ARPA provide the opportunity to address many of the longstanding concerns of the [Commonwealth] that are specific to our ability to better manage our economic development and make a real investment in the infrastructure of the [Commonwealth] and the lives of its people,” said Secretary David Atalig, speaking on behalf of Governor Ralph Torres (R) of the Northern Mariana Islands.
“[Regarding] the CARES Act and ARPA, I have to say that giving flexibility is very good. We were able to incentivize the economy. We not only gave premium pay to essential workers in our economy, we also incentivized workers to come back to their places of employment in the middle of the pandemic. And, we incentivized our tourism industry which is key for our future so that flexibility I have to praise,” said Governor Pedro Pierluisi (NPP, D) of Puerto Rico.
In response to questioning from Chairman Manchin, Governor Lourdes Leon Guerrero (D) of Guam said that the American Rescue Plan was the most helpful pandemic relief effort passed by Congress.