Hawaii Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Ed Case are co-sponsoring a bill to restore Medicaid eligibility for tens of thousands of Pacific Islander migrants who live and work legally in the U.S.

Citizens of three Pacific nations — Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia — live in the U.S. under strategic agreements known as the Compacts of Free Association that give the U.S. military control over their nations’ surrounding airspace and waters. But many have struggled to access health care since their eligibility for Medicaid was stripped by the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.

Kathy Ko Chin, president and chief executive officer of the advocacy group Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, said in a press release the bill would correct “a nearly 25-year error.”

“COFA communities have contributed to our nation’s security, pay taxes and play a role in driving our economy, but they are not eligible for many of the programs that their tax dollars support,” she said.

The bill, called the Covering Our FAS Allies Act (COFA Act), was co-sponsored by Reps. Tony Cárdenas, a Democrat from California; Amata Coleman Radewagen, a Republican from American Samoa; Steve Womack, a Republican from Arkansas; and Gregorio Sablan, a Democrat from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The proposal is a companion to Senate Bill 2218 introduced in July by Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz.

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