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Madeleine B.
Democrat GU 0

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  • Bill to Comprehensively Address Compact Impact in Affected Jurisdictions

    by Representative Madeleine Z. Bordallo

    Posted on 2016-01-12

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    BORDALLO. Mr. Speaker, today I introduced legislation that will help address the impact of the Compact of Free Association--these are the Pacific Islands--on affected jurisdictions like Guam and the State of Hawaii.

    I continue to support the intent of the Compact, and I do understand the benefits that these agreements have for our Nation and our security. However, the costs borne by our local governments amount to millions of dollars 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 Compact and the migrants.

    COFA migrants make positive contributions to our community, but insufficient support from the Federal Government causes a significant socioeconomic strain on our island communities. This strain only increases, especially with 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 the Compact.

    The best solution to Compact impact would be an increase in annual mandatory funding from the current $30 million to the $185 million recommended by the GAO. However, the current budget environment makes appropriating this very difficult.

    Nonetheless, I am proud to also cosponsor another bill, a bill introduced by Congressman Takai of the State 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 and innovative fixes that would provide much-needed relief to our local governments without much cost to taxpayers.

    Now, this approach is a more budget-friendly way to address this challenge. The bill's provisions address four areas to reduce the burden.

    {time} 1045 First, my bill would permit the affected jurisdictions to use the amount that they have spent to provide social services to COFA migrants toward 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, and this would go a long way toward 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 [[Page H290]] 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 just to pay another.

    Thirdly, this legislation would clarify Congress' intent when we extended eligibility for housing assistance programs to the COFA migrants. This bill ensures that U.S. citizens, nationals, or lawful permanent residents are not displaced and are given priority when applying for housing benefits.

    Lastly, Mr. Speaker, this bill would commission independent research on the viability of the current compacts and make recommendations on policy alternatives moving forward. I do hope that this research will provide strategic guidance as we move toward renewal of the compacts in 2023 and ensure that we are administering these agreements in the best way.

    I am so very pleased to count the gentleman from Hawaii (Mr. Takai) as an original cosponsor of my bill.

    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 Compact of Free Association. While the challenges facing affected jurisdictions are nowhere near as serious as Puerto Rico, Mr. Speaker, doing nothing would only welcome economic and security challenges down the road.

    I do look forward to this bill becoming law and it being a tremendous help to jurisdictions affected by the Compact impact.


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