U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Ed Case are seeking answers to what they describe as a federal government funding error that negatively impacted Hawaii.

In a press release Wednesday the four Democrats said they are asking the Census Bureau and the Department of the Interior about population counts in 2013 and 2018 of Compacts of Free Association citizens living in Hawaii.

The undercounts, they say, resulted in an underpayment of $17 million in federal funds to the state over several years.

The delegates want the state to be paid the lost funds.

2017 US Capitol Early fall. Constitution Avenue.
Hawaii’s four members in Congress want the state to be paid what it is owed to help support Micronesians living in the islands. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

“This aid is essential to support services for COFA citizens, including healthcare benefits, education programs, transportation services, and law enforcement and public safety services in the affected jurisdictions. The misallocation of funding has certainly caused lasting disruptions for the affected jurisdictions,” the delegation wrote.

The Bureau and the DOI briefed the offices of Hawaii’s congressional delegation last month on the erroneous counts and “the resulting misallocation of federal dollars to the state, but provided no details on how the error occurred and how it was discovered.”

The two agencies, according to the press release, admitted the mistake and proposed restoring funding by cutting payments to Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands over three years. All three U.S. territories are home to COFA migrants, especially Guam.

The delegation calls the fed’s proposal unfair and something that “further erodes the trust between the federal government and the states and territories impacted by the error.”

The enumeration is used to determine how much so-called compact-impact aid is distributed to Hawaii and the three territories, a figure currently capped at $30 million annually.

In their letters the delegates say that Hawaii was given nearly $16.9 million less between fiscal years 2015 and 2020, while Guam was overpaid $14.7 million, the CNMI $2.2 million and American Samoa $21,000.

The letters to the two agencies were also signed by U.S. Representatives Michael F.Q. San Nicolas (D-Guam), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands) and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa).

The concerns of Hawaii’s delegates come just two weeks after Case, Gabbard, Nicolas and Saban demanded that the federal government fully reimburse Hawaii for the cost of providing nearly $200 million annually in public services to migrants from Micronesia.

In their letter, the delegates suggested any renewal of the COFA treaties with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, may not be renewed by Congress in 2023 and 2024.

COFA allows residents of the three nations visa-free travel to the U.S. and its territories, where many Micronesians are increasingly taking up near permanent residence.

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