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Full U.S. Senate set to vote on Omnibus bill which affects territories

reporters@samoanews.com

The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy passed by voice vote more than a week ago its version of the Omnibus Territories bill, which includes provisions for American Samoa.
 
The provisions were presented six months ago by Congressman Faleomavaega Eni and the bill now goes to the U.S. Senate floor for a vote, which is not expected until Congress returns next month after the holidays.
 
After the bill passed the Senate committee Cong Faleomavaega's office issued a statement saying the congressman would keep the people of American Samoa updated as the bill moves forward.
 
Although issuing statements in the congressman's name, his office still has not provided an update on Faleomavega's health.
 
WAIVER REQUIREMENT
 
This provision of the bill provides that each federal department and agency shall waive any requirement for local matching funds (including in-kind contributions) that the insular area would otherwise be required to provide for any non-competitive grant as follows:
 
•            For a grant requiring matching funds (including in-kind contributions) of $500,000 or less, the entire matching requirement shall be waived;
 
•            For a grant requiring matching funds (including in-kind contributions) of more than $500,000, $500,000 of the matching requirement shall be waived.
 
MINIMUM WAGE DIFFERENTIAL
 
This provision calls for the the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the effects of minimum wage differentials in American Samoa, where there are different minimum wages for 18 industry classifications.
 
Faleomavaega testified before the U.S. Senate in July that he felt it was “discriminatory” to pay some minimum wage workers less just because they work in the hotel industry, for example, versus the tuna industry.”
 
Current minimum wage law shows that hotel industry minimum is $4.50 per hour while tuna industry has a $4.76 per hour minimum wage. Local government minimum wage is $4.41 an hour.
 
COST-RATIO-FORMULA
 
Section 15 of the bill requests the Comptroller of the United States to study and provide a report on the benefit-to-cost ratio formula used to determine funding for federal projects in American Samoa.
 
A benefit to cost ratio study for projects in America Samoa would also assess whether the benefit-to-cost ratio formulas consider the remote locations in, and the cost of transportation to and from, American Samoa, and other significant factors that are not comparable to locations within the contiguous States.
 
Further, to assess, in particular, the use of benefit-to-cost ratio formulas by the Secretary of Transportation with respect to airport traffic control tower programs, and the Secretary of the Army, acting through the Corps of Engineers, with respect to a harbor project or other water resources development project.
 
FISHERY ENDORSEMENTS
 
The intent of the language in this provision is to restore fishery endorsements to U.S. tuna boats that are 100% U.S. built, 100% U.S. owned, and that off-load the majority of their fish in American Samoa, Faleomavaega had said.
 
“We have some tuna boats that meet the above criteria but which have lost their fishery endorsement because they were repaired in a foreign shipyard meaning these boats are no longer permitted to fish in the U.S. EEZs in the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Area,” said Faleomavaega in his prepared remarks submitted to the U.S. Senate hearing.



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