Legislation to Increase Federal Resources for Migrants
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawa‘i-02) joined a coalition of lawmakers on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in reintroducing the Compact Impact Relief Act to increase federal funding and resources for Hawai‘i and Pacific U.S. territories that provide healthcare, education, social, public safety and other services to migrants of Freely Associated States (FAS) living in the United States.
In 1996, Congress passed a law that made migrants from Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands ineligible for federal Medicaid dollars. Without federal dollars, Hawai‘i has borne the cost of care for COFA migrants which has strained the state’s resources, Rep. Gabbard said. Each year, the state spends an estimated $30 to $40 million to provide healthcare to these families. Yet in FY17, Hawai‘i received less than $14 million in federal funds to support this cost of care.
Each year, Guam and other affected jurisdictions submit estimates for the cost of providing public service to migrants under the Compacts of Free Association between the U.S. and three FAS: the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau. According to the most recent estimates, Guam remains the primary destination for Compact migrants followed closely by Hawai‘i. In 2017, GovGuam estimated Compact impact at $142.6 million for just fiscal year 2016 but received just $16.2 million from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which administers federal Compact aid.
“Without adequate federal funding, Hawai‘i’s state and local governments have faced tremendous strain and challenge in caring for the more than 17,000 COFA migrants in Hawai‘i, who were promised care and services by the federal government,” said Rep. Gabbard. “This legislation will relieve much of this burden by increasing federal funding and resources for Hawai‘i to deliver needed healthcare, education, social, public safety and other services to COFA migrants who call Hawai‘i home.”
“The benefits to the United States, from the Compacts and the presence of citizens from the Freely Associated States are without question,” Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawai‘i) said. “Hawai‘i is home to more than 17,000 FAS citizens and state and county governments spend about $100 million a year to provide healthcare, education and other government services. However, the federal government reimburses about $.16 for every dollar. Mahalo, Congresswoman Bordallo, for introducing this measure and thank you to our co-sponsors, Congresswoman Gabbard and Congressman Sablan for supporting this common sense solution to help our local governments pay for services to support these communities.”
“The U.S. Pacific insular areas should not be saddled with an unfair share of our nation’s foreign policy costs,” Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-NMI) said. “For that reason, I join with my colleagues from Guam and Hawai‘i to introduce the Compact Impact Relief Act. As the only Micronesian in Congress, I also want to be sure that when our friends and neighbors from the Freely Associated States decide to make their home in one of the U.S. islands, they know they are welcome and not a financial burden. The Compact Impact Relief Act will help achieve both of these goals. I thank Congresswoman Bordallo for her leadership.”
Overview of the Compact Impact Relief Act:
- Increases federal (FMAP) funding for hospitals and clinics in Guam and other affected jurisdictions like Hawai’i to offset costs of serving Compact migrants, with federal Medicaid matching funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Increases federal (ESSA) funding for public schools to offset costs of serving Compact migrant school children on Guam and nationwide, by reclassifying them as “federally connected” students eligible for impact aid from the U.S. Department of Education.
- Expands federal national/community service programs to make Compact migrants living in the United States eligible for federally funded national and community service programs like AmeriCorps and the Youth Conservation Corps, which also teach job skills.
- Requires comprehensive assessment of the Compacts of Free Association and their implementation ahead of fiscal year 2023 expiration, including inadequate Compact impact aid to Guam and other affected jurisdictions.
- Specifies that Compact migrants be counted in the upcoming 2020 census and future censuses. The U.S. Department of the Interior uses these headcounts to determine Compact impact funding to Guam and other jurisdictions, so an accurate count is critical.
- Authorizes annual federal economic assessments for all 5 U.S. territories and the 3 Freely Association States, including the economic impact of Compact migrants residing in the territories. Currently, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis only provide gross domestic product estimates for the five territories.
- Directs the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a national strategy to meet the health needs of Pacific Islanders, including Native Hawaiians, Guam’s Chamorro people, and FAS citizens. Pacific Islanders have substantially different health challenges and needs than mainland residents. Congresswoman Bordallo’s intent is that better data will improve healthcare delivery to Pacific Islanders and provide additional federal support to underserved islands communities.
- Expands Guam’s and other Insular Areas’ long-standing waiver from legal requirement that territorial governments match federal funding in order to receive federal grants. Without this expanded waiver, many federally funded infrastructure and economic development projects on Guam and the Insular Areas will remain at a standstill due to lack of available local funding to fulfill federal matching requirements.
- Doubles existing waiver, from $200,000 to $400,000 for all federal grants to Insular Areas (Guam, the Northern Marianas, American Samoa, and U.S. Virgin Islands), and increases waiver for Guam and other jurisdictions impacted by Compact migrants to $600,000 per grant for unreimbursed Compact impact costs.
- Allows GovGuam and other governments affected by Compact migrants to meet federal matching fund requirements above the new waiver limit with in-kind services rendered for unreimbursed Compact impact costs. This ensures that federal agencies take into account the significant, unreimbursed costs borne by GovGuam in serving Compact migrants when awarding federal grants.
- Provides new federal resources for workforce development and vocational training on Guam and other U.S. territories, including federally funded Job Corps centers. Clarifies that Compact migrants are indeed eligible for these federally funded vocational training programs, along with U.S. citizens and nationals.
- Ensures that, at the request of state or territorial governors, Compact migrants will be eligible for same federal programs and benefits (SNAP, TANF, SSBG) as legal permanent residents of the United States, i.e. green card holders. Congresswoman Bordallo’s bill explicitly requires that no funding or benefits are taken away from Americans in order to serve Compact migrants under any of these federal assistance programs.