Fund targetsHawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands would share $15 million a year for the next 20 years to help offset the cost of providing services to migrants from two former U.N. trust territories in the Pacific under proposed amendments to the Compacts of Free Association.
Hawaii would receive part of
$15 million in federal money
to help fund migrant services
By Ron Staton
The first annual payment is included in President Bush's proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
The compacts give citizens of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia access to education, health care, residence and employment in the United States and its territories. But the 1996 welfare reform act made compact migrants ineligible for federally funded benefits including Medicare and Medicaid.
Since then, Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Marianas have provided these services with little assistance from the federal government.
A Department of Interior report estimated last September that Hawaii spends $104 million annually to provide these services. It said Guam spent $205 million and the Marianas $205 million.
Hawaii education, health and social service providers aired their concerns during a teleconference yesterday with U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii. Joining Abercrombie at the House Recording Studio at the U.S. Capitol were Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee; Al Short, director of compact negotiations for the State Department; and David Cohen, deputy assistant secretary of the interior for insular affairs.
"Compact impact aid grants appropriated by Congress have been haphazard over the years," Cohen said.
Under the new system, the $15 million would be allocated pro rata every year based on the number of migrants in Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Marianas.
"This is a matter Hawaii has little or no control over," said Pombo.
"It is our responsibility to take care of this issue in the best way we can."
Hawaii probably would get the largest share, followed by Guam and the Northern Marianas, Cohen said.
The $15 million is an "arbitrary but not capricious" figure and is the amount the administration was willing to put in the budget, Abercrombie said.
The United States currently provides about $150 million annually to the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, most of it under the Compacts of Free Association, and the remaining 20 percent from other federal programs.
The compact amendments will improve accountability and effectiveness, said Cohen.
"We want to make sure the aid we give will have the greatest impact," he said.
The intent is to help stem the migration and help assure that those who do leave are better educated and in better health, he said.
A joint five-member committee, with three from the United States, will approve allocation of funds in each of the two countries, he said.
"We are not dictating how the funds are to be spent, but we want to make sure that the funds are spent as intended under the compacts," he said.
Under the proposed compact amendments, trust funds would be set up which eventually would replace the annual funding. The trust funds would start with $30 million contributions for the two countries.
Beginning in fiscal year 2005, the Marshall Islands base grant will decrease by $500,000 per year through 2023, with the decrement added to the trust. The base grant to Micronesia will decrease by $800,000 per year in fiscal year 2007 in a similar arrangement.
The compacts, which determine the bilateral relationship between the United States and the two Pacific countries, are set to expire on Oct. 1. The original compacts ended U.N. trusteeships, established democratic and sovereign self-government and ensured U.S. security needs.
Department of Interior
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