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Case Introduces Measure to Require Federal Benefit Coverage of Compact Migrants

His Compact Impact Fairness Act Aims At Growing Burden On States and Territories, Now $200 Million Annually for Hawai’i Alone, For Uncovered Services To Resident Migrants From The Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia

This measure calls on the federal government to extend the same federal benefits to citizens of three Pacific Island nations legally entitled to live and work in the U.S. as are available to other legal permanent residents

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Congressman Ed Case (HI-01) today introduced a measure in the U.S. House of Representatives to require the federal government to extend the same federal benefits to citizens of three Pacific Island nations legally entitled to live and work in the U.S. as are available to other legal permanent residents.

“For over three decades our country and Hawai’i have welcomed citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau to live and work in our country legally under Compacts of Free Association (COFA) between our nations,” said Case.

“Yet, although COFA are critical national agreements for our country in the increasingly critical Indo-Pacific, our federal government has dumped the financial burden of providing needed services to FAS citizens on the few states and territories with the most migrants, in part by disqualifying legal FAS citizens from receiving the same basic federal benefits from key federal programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Children’s Health Insurance (CHIP) that other legal permanent residents are entitled to.”

“In fact, Hawai’i, Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands, which have the highest relative COFA populations in the country, were required to spend some $3.2 billion for services to COFA migrants from 2004 to 2018 but were only reimbursed some $500 million, for a whopping bill of $2.7 billion”, said Case, citing a comprehensive June 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“For Hawai’i alone, our bill is now around $200 million annually and no doubt growing rapidly with the severe COVID-related needs of our COFA communities.

“It is fundamentally unfair for our federal government to ignore its obligations under agreements that are purely national in interest and scope and transfer this crushing financial burden to the states and territories. My measure would address much of this unfairness by requiring our federal government to extend to FAS citizens the same basic federal benefits provided to other legal permanent residents and thus pay for basic services that the state states and territories are now forced to provide and fund.”

The GAO report counted some 100,000 and growing FAS citizens throughout the country. They reside disproportionately in Hawai‘i, Guam, Washington, Arkansas, Oregon, California, Texas, the Northern Marianas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri, Georgia, Colorado and Iowa, but are located in every state. The GAO estimated Compact migrant growth at 68% over the last decade, with about 50% now located in Hawai’i (the largest population at about 26% of the total), Guam and the Northern Marianas and about 50% on the U.S. Mainland.

“The COFA provide for U.S. economic assistance to the FAS, exclusive U.S. military use and defense rights in and to the FAS, and the ability of FAS citizens to live and work anywhere in the U.S. indefinitely. Initially, the relatively few FAS citizens living and working in our country legally under the COFA received the basic standard federal benefits granted to permanent residents and other legal non-citizens. However, due to a technical error in the 1996 welfare reform bill, FAS citizens were rendered ineligible for Medicaid and other public benefits. FAS citizens, like other permanent legal residents, should be eligible for all public benefit programs,” said Case in a letter to his colleagues.

“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. The Compact Impact Fairness Act would correct the mistake in the 1996 law and treat FAS citizens basically the same as any other legal resident non-citizen for these purposes.”

Case’s co-introducers of the Compact Impact Fairness Act include: Steve Womack (R-Arkansas), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Committee on the Budget and Case’s colleague on the House Appropriations Committee; Adam Smith (D-Washington), Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services; and Case’s Pacific Islands colleagues, Gregorio Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands), Aumua Amata Radewagon (R-American Samoa), and Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam).