A Bill to Comprehensively Address Compact Impact in Affected Jurisdictionsby Representative Madeleine Z. Bordallo
Posted on 2016-01-12
in the house of representatives
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Ms. BORDALLO. Mr. Speaker, today I introduce legislation that will
help address the impact of the Compacts of Free Association on affected
jurisdictions like Guam and Hawaii. I continue to support the intent of
the Compacts, and I understand the benefits these
agreements have for our nation and our security. However, the costs
borne by our local governments for providing social services to Compact
migrants are unsustainable, and Congress must act to provide relief for
affected jurisdictions who have spent millions of local funds to
support the Compacts and migrants. COFA migrants make positive
contributions to our communities, but insufficient support from the
federal government causes a significant socioeconomic strain on our
This strain only increases, especially in the face of uncertain economic conditions in the Freely Associated States as well as the impact climate change is having on Pacific island nations. The bill I am introducing, as well as proposals that I have made in the past, will provide relief and empower local jurisdictions with solutions to reduce the burden of Compacts.
The best solution to Compact impact would be an increase in annual mandatory funding from the current $30 million, divided among each of the affected jurisdictions, to the $185 million recommended by the GAO. However, the current budget environment makes appropriating this difficult. Nonetheless I am proud to be a cosponsor of a bill introduced by Congressman Takai of Hawaii that would increase this annual appropriation, and I hope that we can at least have a debate on this measure.
However, as we work to find long-term solutions to Compact-impact, I believe that there are important fixes we can make that will provide much needed relief to our local governments without significant costs to taxpayers. The ideas that I incorporate into this bill are based on ways to reduce the burden with the in-kind contributions that our local governments have provided to support COFA migrants. This approach is a more budget-friendly way to address this daunting policy challenge. The bill's provisions address four areas where we can reduce the burden.
Firstly, my bill would permit the affected jurisdictions to use the cumulative amount that they have spent to provide social services to COFA migrants, towards the non-federal portion of providing Medicaid to their local residents. The bill proposes a new formula that would increase the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage for each of the affected jurisdictions. This would go a long way towards alleviating the burden on affected jurisdictions by increasing the percentage assistance provided by the federal government for Medicaid.
Secondly, the bill would categorize elementary and secondary education-aged COFA students as federally connected students and make them eligible for Impact Aid. I understand the fiscal challenges that the Impact Aid community faces, and I am committed to working with them to address the effect this bill may have on them. The bill attempts to offset this effect by increasing funding authorization and ensures that we are not taking from one group to pay for another.
Thirdly, this legislation would clarify Congress's intent when we extended eligibility for housing assistance programs to COFA migrants. This bill ensures that U.S. citizens, nationals, or lawful permanent residents are not displaced when applying for housing benefits and that they are given priority when applying for these benefits.
Lastly, this bill would commission independent research on the viability of the current Compacts, and make recommendations on policy alternatives moving forward. I hope this research will provide strategic guidance as we move towards renewal of the Compacts in 2023 and ensure that we are administering these agreements in the best way moving forward.
I am pleased to count my colleague Mr. Takai from Hawaii as an original cosponsor. As this Congress discusses solutions for the crisis in Puerto Rico, it is important that we also discuss challenges that the other territories face, especially the challenge of supporting the Compacts of Free Association. While the challenges facing affected jurisdictions are nowhere near as serious as Puerto Rico, doing nothing would only welcome economic and security challenges down the road. I look forward to this bill becoming law and being a tremendous help to jurisdictions affected by Compact impact.