Hawai‘i Delegation Demands Repayment of Lost COFA Funds

December 4, 2019, 11:33 AM HST (Updated December 4, 2019, 11:33 AM)
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Hawai‘i’s delegation is demanding fair repayment of lost federal funds providing support services for Compact of Free Association (COFA) citizens.

On Wednesday, US Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and US Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawai‘i) and Ed Case (D-Hawai‘i) demanded answers from the Census Bureau and the Department of the Interior (DOI) on an error the Bureau made in the 2013 and 2018 counts of COFA citizens in Hawai‘i that resulted in an underpayment of $17 million in federal funds to the state.

COFA encompasses migrants from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, The Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia.

“This aid is essential to support services for COFA citizens, including healthcare benefits, education programs, transportation services, and law enforcement and public safety services in the affected jurisdictions. The misallocation of funding has certainly caused lasting disruptions for the affected jurisdictions,” the delegation wrote in their letter to the Census Bureau and the DOI. “It is essential to the negotiated trust responsibility that the Department of the Interior, supervised by the Census Bureau, accurately count all COFA citizens in the affected jurisdictions to distribute necessary mandatory aid required by law.”

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Late last month, the Bureau and the DOI briefed the offices of Hawai‘i’s congressional delegation on the erroneous counts and the resulting misallocation of federal dollars to the state, but provided no details on how the error occurred and how it was discovered.

While the federal agencies have admitted their mistake, their proposal to restore the funding by cutting payments to Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands over three years is unfair and further erodes the trust between the federal government and the states and territories impacted by the error.

In response, the delegation called for a quick and fair repayment to Hawai‘i, urging congressional authorizers to restore funding to the state while protecting funding for the territories.

“These errors placed inequitable burdens on Hawai‘i, undercutting the state’s ability to provide important services to its residents as well as COFA citizens living in Hawai‘i. Any solution to this problem should ensure that Hawai‘i receive its fair allocation of mandatory assistance without harming the other affected jurisdictions. Neither Hawai‘i nor any of the other affected jurisdictions were responsible for the mistakes made,” the delegation wrote to congressional leaders with the power to authorize funding for citizens of COFA nations.

In addition to Hawai‘i’s congressional delegation, the letters were signed by U.S. Representatives Michael F.Q. San Nicolas (D-Guam), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands), and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa).

The letter to the Census Bureau and the Department of the Interior is available here.

The letter to congressional leaders is available here.

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