• By Mar-Vc Cagurangan

Compact migrants population grew 68%

Census taker interviews an FSM citizen in this May 2019 file photo

(Updated)

The population of freely associated states citizens who have migrated to the United States and its territories has grown 68 percent in nine years-- from 56,000 in 2009 to 94,000 in 2018-- and the spike in migration came with corresponding increases in costs incurred by host jurisdictions, according to the Government Accountability Office, citing data from the Census Bureau.

GAO said Hawaii, Guam and the CNMI have reported their estimated costs, with a combined total of $3.2 billion during the period fiscal years 2004 through 2018, as result of hosting migrants from the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and Republic of Marshall Islands.

"Hawaii, Guam, and CNMI officials have emphasized that compact impact funding does not fully compensate for the expenses associated with Compact migration," GAO said in a report released Tuesday.

In fiscal years 2004 through 2019, Hawaii, Guam and the CNMI received a combined total of approximately $509 million in federal grants to help defray the costs of providing services to Compact migrants, GAO said.

The total cost for three jurisdiction is broken down as follows:

• Hawaii reported $1.8 billion in total estimated compact impact costs. Hawaii’s reported annual costs increased from $55 million in fiscal year 2004 to $198 million in fiscal year 2018

Guam reported $1.2 billion in total estimated compact impact costs. Guam’s reported annual costs increased from $33 million in fiscal year 2004 to $147 million in fiscal year 2017.48

• The CNMI reported $116 million in total estimated compact impact costs. The CNMI’s reported annual costs amounted to $10 million in both fiscal year 2004 and fiscal year 2018 but fluctuated over time, ranging from a low of about $3 million in fiscal year 2011 to a high of $12 million in fiscal year 2014.

In fiscal years 2004 through 2019, the Department of the Interior made annual allocations of the $30 million in Compact impact grant funds divided among Guam, Hawaii, CNMI and American Samoa to defray the costs of hosting FAS migrants.

"Since fiscal year 2012, Interior has provided additional Compact impact grant funding to the affected jurisdictions from annual appropriations. This additional funding has ranged from approximately $3 million to $5 million per year since fiscal year 2012," GAO said.

Hawaii, which receives approximately $13 million a year, allocates the entirety of its Compact impact grant to the state’s MedQuest division.

Guam receives approximately $15 million a year and uses a fraction of the grant to cover the payments for new schools built through leasebacks

The CNMI allocates its approximately $2 million of compact impact funding each year across the education, health care, public safety and social service sectors.

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The Compacts of Free Association allow citizens from FSM, RMI and Palau to enter, live and work visa-free in any U.S. jurisdiction. In exchange, the United States get access to these countries' skies and waters for defense purposes.

The population count, according to GAO, includes U.S.-born children and grandchildren of migrants from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Palau. FAS citizens migrate to U.S. soil for job opportunities and education.

"Consular officials noted that, because of comparatively lower wages and fewer housing options in the FASs, returning to their countries after living in U.S. areas can be difficult for some compact migrants," GAO said.

"Some compact migrants said that it is also difficult to find a good job in their home countries without family or political connections. According to an FAS official, some Compact migrants retire to their home countries. However, several compact migrants we spoke with said they planned to stay in U.S. areas to be close to medical care or to children and grandchildren born there."

GAO said an estimated 50 percent of Compact migrants lived on the U.S. mainland. "In the U.S. areas GAO visited—Arkansas, the CNMI, Guam, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington—state and territorial officials identified effects of providing public education and health care services to Compact migrants.," the report said. "Some area governments use a combination of federal and state or territorial funds to extend health care coverage to compact migrants."

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GAO said some states help Compact migrants pay for coverage through health insurance exchanges, created under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, by covering the cost of premiums not covered by advanced premium tax credits available to eligible compact migrants.

"Effects of compact migration in these U.S. areas also include compact migrants’ budgetary contributions through payment of taxes and fees as well as their workforce contributions—for example, through jobs in hotels, manufacturing, the U.S. military, poultry processing, caregiving, and government," GAO said.

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