The distribution of migrants from the freely associated states has shifted since 2003, with more than half of the total number now spread out across the mainland U.S., the Department of the Interior said in a bid to justify its move to eliminate the aid allocated for Guam and other Pacific jurisdictions.
In lieu of the statutory fund appropriated to defray the costs of hosting FAS citizens under the Compacts of Free Association, the department announced its intention to focus on the proposed restoration of COFA migrants’ eligibility for welfare assistance. This means Guam will have to compete for compact impact funds with other states that host FAS migrants.
Around 94,000 citizens from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau live and work in the U.S. and its territories, the DOI said, citing the 2020 Government Accountability Office’s most recent report.
“More than half of these populations now reside in the continental United States and an estimated 43 percent are U.S. citizens,” the DOI said in a statement released Friday.
“As the United States and the freely associated states enter into the next 20 years of free association and considering the current demographics, it is an appropriate time to evaluate and address the impact that compact migrants have on both the four affected jurisdictions as well as other states and communities in the continental United States,” the DOI said.
According to the Department of Commerce, the population of FAS migrants in Pacific jurisdictions as of 2018 was broken down as follows:
“These estimates were derived using corrected marital status data and do not allow a grandchild to inherit the COFA status of their grandparent,” the Department of Commerce said.
The federal government’s figure, however, does not match Guam’s. The Bureau of Statistics and Plans reported that 30,344 FAS citizens reside on island as of 2020, nearly doubling the number 10 years.
The US$30 million in the annual mandatory appropriation for Guam, Hawaii, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas and and Hawai’I was established to offset the costs incurred by affected jurisdictions for hosting the FAS migrant.
Beginning in 2012, the U.S. Congress appropriated additional discretionary funds ranging from US$3 million to US$6 million a year to augment the mandatory funds.
The 20-year funding expires on 30 September.
“Given the expiration of the underlying mandatory appropriation, the department has not requested a continuation of the small discretionary supplement to the mandatory funds for compact impact,” the DOI said.
“Ultimately, any extension of compact impact funding or extension of federal benefits to compact migrants residing in the United States and its territories requires congressional action,” the federal agency added.
Guam claimed the U.S. government owes Guam US$1.6 billion in arrears since 2004.
But the federal government has not committed to settling the amount of compact impact costs calculated by Guam.
Instead of channeling funds to local government, the DOI endorsed direct assistance to the FAS migrants through the proposed Compact Impact Fairness Act.
The proposed bill would restore the eligibility for COFA citizens to receive welfare assistance benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, Social Services Block Grants, education assistance, and other programs that they were restricted from accessing as part of the 1996 welfare reform law.
The yet-to-be-established amount of appropriation under the proposed Compact Impact Fairness Act would be shared by the Pacific territories with other states where FAS migrants have a sizeable presence including Washington, Arkansas, Oregon, California, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri, Georgia, Colorado and Iowa. “In that regard, the Biden-Harris administration supports allowing Compact migrants to become eligible for key federal social safety net programs while residing in the United States, as a long-term solution to the financial impacts of compact migrants on state and territorial governments,” the DOI said.