Friday, February 19, 1999

Hawaii seeks federal
funds to cover costs of
Micronesian migrants

By Susan Kreifels


A U.S. Senate-funded census of Micronesian immigrants in Hawaii and their cost to the state could help get federal funding to offset those costs.

Hawaii's congressional delegation and the governor are pushing for that money in next year's federal budget.

President Clinton has requested $10 million in capital improvement grants for Guam to ease the impact of Micronesian immigrants there. But the budget provides no money for cash-strapped Hawaii.

Gov. Ben Cayetano asked the Department of Interior for $11.5 million to reimburse the state for welfare, health care, education and crime costs for an estimated 6,000 Micronesian immigrants or more.

The Senate-mandated census of Micronesian immigrants, due next month, will look at Hawaii's costs, although it's too late to change the president's proposed budget this year, said Interior spokesman David North. It will be considered, however, in Clinton's proposal next year.

"We are paying attention to what Hawaii has said to us," North said in a phone interview.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, however, is making the money a priority in current budget talks, said Jennifer Goto Sabas, Inouye's chief of staff in Honolulu.

Goto said including Hawaii in the Interior budget is a new idea. "There's clearly an opportunity to renegotiate," Goto Sabas said. "At the end of the day, Congress will decide."

She stressed, however, that Inouye didn't want "to rob Peter to pay Paul in an effort to get Hawaii its fair share."

A January 1998 Interior report said close to 6,000 Micronesian immigrants live in Hawaii, but local officials believe the numbers could be at least twice as high. Cayetano told the department last year that nearly 40 percent of the immigrants lived in poverty.

Guam currently receives $4.6 million to help ease costs of supporting immigrants from Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, according to Interior. The extra money in the president's budget request would come from unused capital funding for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The new Micronesian nations, once part of the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, hold 15-year agreements with the United States called Compacts of Free Association. The compacts allow free emigration.

Congress pledged to help Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Marianas meet the costs of the immigrants by approving money for education and social services.

Those three governments sued the U.S. government over its failure to conduct annual reports on the financial impact of the immigration. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit late last year, saying Congress, not the Judiciary, should determine whether federal reports were adequate.

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