The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Tuesday that it will provide more money to places like Hawaii that have growing Micronesian populations, on top of the $30 million already allotted annually.
But the additional $3 million in what’s known as “compact impact” aid is a fraction of the funding the state and other islands say they need to provide educational, health care and social service support to the recent arrivals.
Acting Interior Assistant Secretary Nikolao Pula made available $3 million in discretionary impact funding for the current federal fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
Hawaii received $1.27 million, Guam $1.49 million, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands $231,000 and American Samoa $2,000.
“The governors of the affected jurisdictions have reported that the federal government is not providing sufficient funds to cover the costs they bear for the impact of migrants from the freely associated states on social services,” Pula said in a press release. “Both Guam and Hawaii have each reported costs exceeding $100 million a year.”
Political leaders in Hawaii and Guam, which each have Micronesian populations exceeding 15,000, have pushed for more federal support. But legislation in to that effect in Congress has not advanced.
The Compact of Free Association allows citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau to live and work indefinitely in the United States as legal nonimmigrants.
The Interior Department currently provides $30 million annually in “compact impact” support, the lion’s share going to Hawaii and Guam. The recent totals are $14.7 million for Guam, $12.6 million for Hawaii, $2.2 million for the CNMI and $21,447 for American Samoa.
A homeless encampment in the Honolulu neighborhood of Kakaako Makai in 2015 included a significant number of Micronesians.
Mark Edward Harris/Civil Beat
In its press release, the Interior Department cited 2013 data from the U.S. Bureau of Census that concluded there are 17,170 migrants from the COFA nations in Hawaii, 14,700 in Guam, 2,660 in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and 25 in American Samoa.
The COFA nations are also known as the freely associated states, and Micronesians who chose to emigrate are sometimes called FAS migrants.
The total number of FAS migrants in the U.S. and its territories is unknown, but estimates range as high as 75,000. That’s roughly equivalent to one-third of the combined populations of the three COFA nations.
The primary reasons for emigrating are to pursue education, employment and health care. Global warming is also cited as a reason for leaving, especially from the low-lying islands.
The COFA nations receive about $200 million dollars a year directly from the U.S., but the payments are set to expire in 2023 unless the treaty is renewed.
The U.S. retains full military control of the lands and waters of the vast region — some 2 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
It also operates a military base and missile testing site on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.
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