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Congress On The Verge Of Approving Compact Of Free Association (COFA) Agreements Vital To Relationship Between The United States And Pacific Island Nations

Case says the legislation pending full Congressional approval this week would also further extend federal benefits to COFA citizens who reside in Hawai‘i and in other states across the country for services now incorrectly paid for by states and others

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Congressman Ed Case (D-HI-01) said today that a five-year effort to renew agreements with the Freely Associated States (FAS) -the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands - are included in the $460 billion federal funding measure now before the House for a critical vote this week.

Case said while approval of the funding measure will prevent a partial government shutdown, the measure also includes provisions to extend federal benefits to FAS citizens who reside in the United States and its Territories in the Pacific.

Those provisions are from the Compact Impact Fairness Act (CIFA), a bill co-introduced last year by Case and Congressman Steve Womack (R-AR-03) which, along with a companion measure by Senator Mazie Hirono, called for the restoration of a range of federal benefits that provide relief to states like Hawai‘i with large communities of FAS citizens.

“It is fundamentally unfair for our federal government to ignore its obligations under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) that are national in interest and scope and then impose the responsibility for providing basic services to FAS citizens on state and territorial governments,” said Congressman Case.

“The CIFA provisions in the $460 billon funding measure will extend to FAS citizens the same basic federal benefits provided to other legal permanent residents and thus pay for basic services that the states and territories are now forced to provide themselves.”

Case continued: “There is also no reason that federal law should distinguish between FAS citizens and other legal resident non-citizens in eligibility for these key social safety net federal programs. FAS citizens are important members of our communities that contribute to our economies and deserve the same support from our federal government.

“The CIFA, which we first introduced in the 116th Congress (2019-2021), would correct this omission in the 1996 welfare reform law and ensure FAS citizens legally working and residing in the United States are treated basically the same as any other legal resident non-citizen for these purposes.”

Approval of the funding measure would restore eligibility for FAS citizens to receive public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Services Block Grants (SSBG), education assistance, and other programs that they were restricted from accessing as part of the 1996 welfare reform law.

The vote on the funding measure comes after Case and Womack and 46 other House colleagues sent a letter urging House Speaker Mike Johnson in a bipartisan effort to facilitate Congressional approval of their Compact of Free Association (COFA) Amendments Act of 2023 at the earliest opportunity.

“The Compacts are central not only to our longstanding relationships with Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, but to our country’s standing in the broader Pacific,” said Case.

“The delay in providing Congressional approval is being used to sow doubt as to whether we can be trusted to stand by our commitments to our Pacific partners. The necessary legislative measure is fully vetted and ready for final approval in the House and should be approved now.”

This letter builds on Case’s and Womack’s longstanding bipartisan work to support FAS citizens who reside in the United States, many who live in Hawai‘i and Arkansas, and to strengthen the partnerships between the U.S. and countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Attachment: letter to Speaker Johnson