Rep. Case Calls on Federal Government to Address COFA

November 30, 2019, 10:20 AM HST (Updated November 30, 2019, 10:20 AM)
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A Hawai‘i Island congressman is calling on the federal government to fully reimburse the state for the cost of providing public services to migrants from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, The Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, all designated as Freely Associated States (FAS), which are covered by the Compacts of Free Association (COFA).

Rep. Ed Case joined in a letter to the Secretaries of Defense, State and the Interior, which are the federal departments most directly involved in FAS matters, along with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Guam Delegate Michael San Nicolas and Northern Mariana Islands Delegate Gregorio Sablan.

The letter calls on the Administration to “explicitly address full and adequate Compact aid to all disproportionately affected jurisdictions” as part of the renegotiations with the FAS states and include in any proposed renewed COFA full Compact impact aid. The COFA renewals must be approved by Congress.

“Unfortunately, the related costs of FAS migrants residing in Hawai‘i, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Samoa have ballooned far beyond the assistance provided by our federal government, and the affected jurisdictions can no longer reasonably be expected to bear the burden of this federal responsibility,” said Case.

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The COFA between the United States and the FAS were first approved in 1986, have since been extended, and are now undergoing renegotiation for further extension. Under COFA, FAS citizens can live and work in the United States and participate in public education, health and other benefits, and the costs to jurisdictions of providing those services is supposed to be addressed through federal payments referred to as Compact impact aid. However, such aid has not covered the actual costs to affected jurisdictions.

When Compacts were renewed in 2003, the US Census Bureau estimated around 20,000 FAS migrants in the four jurisdictions. As of 2018, Case states, that number has to more than 38,000, with the vast majority in Hawai‘i and Guam.

Not only has the total number of migrants grown over the years, Case states so have the public services cost of each migrant.

“For Fiscal Year 2018 alone, the State of Hawai‘i estimated costs of about $198 million for direct services to support FAS migrants for primarily health and education, and Guam reported more than $147 million in such costs for Fiscal Year 2017.”

In contrast, Case pointed out, “for Fiscal Year 2019 Compact impact aid, the U.S. Department of Interior distributed just $16.8 million for Guam, $2.3 million for the Northern Mariana Islands, $23,000 for American Samoa – and $14.8 million for Hawai‘i.”

“In short, the actual impact of the Compacts on our jurisdictions far exceeds existing federal assistance – and that gap is growing and can only be expected to continue to grow,” said Case. “As a result, our state and territorial governments bear a disproportionate responsibility for the Compacts in the form of the significant and growing financial costs associated with FAS migrants.”

Case continued, “While we welcome the important and growing contributions of FAS migrant communities in our jurisdictions and recognize the national security value of the Compacts, the status quo is financially unsustainable for our jurisdictions. Without corresponding increases of guaranteed federal assistance to fully reimburse our jurisdictions being included as part and parcel of the Congressional Compact extension approval process, we will find it difficult to support Compact renewal.”

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