UPDATED 11/2/11 2:10 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa on Wednesday introduced legislation to amend the Compact of Free Association to provide for “adequate
Compact-impact aid” to affected states and territories.

Those states include Hawaii, which has struggled to cover tens of millions of dollars in annual government services to help Micronesians living here.

The legislation — titled the “Compact-Impact Reimbursement Act of 2011” — has not yet been assigned a bill number. Co-sponsors are Hawaii Rep. Mazie Hirono and and Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam).

But, at its core, the bill seeks “to address the unfunded mandate and adverse financial consequences resulting from the Compact by meeting the obligations set forth in the Compact,” according to a draft of the legislation provided to Civil Beat.

Unfunded Mandate

The bill calls for the U.S. Department of the Interior to receive $185 million each fiscal year from 2012 through 2024 to provide for grants to Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.

The grants would “aid in defraying costs incurred by their governments as a result of increased demands placed on health, educational, social, or public safety services, or infrastructure related to such services due to the residence of qualified nonimmigrants.”

From 1946 to 1958, the United States used the Marshall Islands for nuclear weapons testing, according to the press release. To compensate for the effects of the testing the the 1985 compact allows residents of any of these Freely Associated States are granted access into the United States to live, study, or work.

The total Micronesian population in Hawaii is said to exceed 20,000. Most are from Chuuk and the Marshall Islands.

But Hawaii’s departments of health and human services have struggled to meet demand for services, and both former Gov. Linda Lingle and current Gov. Neil Abercrombie have sought to limit aid. For example, DHS spent about $52 million in 2010 to help COFA migrants, but the feds provided only $11.2 million. Hanabusa’s office said Hawaii has spent more than $100 million to accommodate COFA migrants.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation earlier this year said it would step up efforts for more federal support.

‘Insufficient Sums’

Hanabusa’s bill is part of that effort. It notes that it was not the intent of Congress “to cause adverse consequences” to the affected states and territories.

If there were such consequences, “Congress would act sympathetically and expeditiously to redress those adverse consequences.”

Hanabusa’s bill says that the Government Accountability Office found that COFA migration has, in fact, “had a significant impact on Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the State of Hawaii” — namely, on “budgetary resources.”

“Insufficient sums have been appropriated to cover the costs incurred,” the bill says.

The $185 million in grants would apply only to health, educational, social or public safety services or infrastructure related to those services. The money would be based on the ratio of the number of qualified immigrants in each region.

If approved by the U.S. House and Senate and signed into law by the president, the legislation would take effect “during or after fiscal year 2012.”

The bill’s chances of passage, however, will likely be hindered by partisan clashes over the federal budget and deficit.

“One of the great things about our state is our diversity, and we welcome people of different cultures and ethnicities with aloha,” Hanabusa said in a prepared statement. “But Hawaii should not be forced to foot the bill for an agreement that was started by the federal government. During a time of budget constraints, we must ensure the affected states and territories receive adequate federal support to help offset the costs for Compact migrants.”

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