• By Mar-Vc Cagurangan

Guam will get what Congress will give

DOI official says Guam's demands won't be on the table during Compact talks with FAS

Doug Domenech

When the Compact Impact funding expires in 2023, Guam leaders hope for a renewal that will give the territory the right amount.

Guam needs to develop “short- and long-term strategies to end the imbalance that has strained local funds” and fix the “deficiencies that have limited our island’s ability to grow,” Sen. Régine Biscoe Lee said during an Aug. 21 hearing conducted by the foreign affairs committee, of which she is the chair.

The government of Guam estimates that the territory incurs $145 million a year on programs and services provided to migrants from freely associated states. The territory is claiming a cumulative total of $586 million in unreimbursed costs since 2004.

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Guam receives the lion’s share of the annual $34 million in mandatory and discretionary Compact Impact funding divided among four jurisdictions. Guam gets $16.8 million; Hawaii receives $14.8 million; CNMI, $2.2 million and American Samoa, $22,000.

According to the Government Accountability Office’s June audit, Hawaii, Guam, and the CNMI reported estimated costs totaling $3.2 billion during the period fiscal years 2004 through 2018. 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.

“Studies done in Guam and Hawaii indicate that funding is insufficient for that type of expenses,” said Doug Domenech, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. “We don’t question the numbers, but of course, Congress doesn’t give us that amount. We provide the money that Congress provides to us.”

The federal government provides funding to each of the host jurisdictions to help defray the costs associated with increased demands placed on health, education, and social services, or infrastructure related to such services provided to citizens of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands. Under the Compact with each of the three FAS nations, their citizens are allowed to live, work and study in the United States without visa requirements for their duration of stay.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 estimates of FAS migrants provide the current basis for determining the distribution amounts. These statistics will be used for five years beginning 2019.

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The 2018 enumeration puts the number of FAS migrants on Guam at 18,874, an increase of 9 percent from 2013 that accounts for 11 percent of the total Guam population. The number of FAS migrants in Hawai’i increased by 12 percent to 16,680, a number that accounts for approximately 1 percent of the total Hawai’i population. The CNMI showed a decrease of 5 percent in the FAS population to 2,535, accounting for 5 percent of the CNMI population.

Domenech and Ambassador Karen Stewart are the negotiators for the U.S. in separate negotiations with Palau, FSM and Marshall Islands on a possible renewal of funding and other federal service provisions of the Compacts. For FSM and Marshall Islands, the funding provisions will expire in 2023; for Palau, 2024.

“This money that the U.S. is providing will end unless we can negotiate an extension of these provisions,” Stewart said.

The first two rounds of Compact talks with the team from each of the three nations were concluded earlier this year. “So far, we have had productive conversations. It’s reflective of the close partnership that we have with FSM, RMI and Palau,” Stewart said. “We are doing this step by step and then we will have a wrap-up of the packages.”

The U.S. team, Stewart said, is looking for outcomes that are mutually satisfactory. “I would say we haven’t yet hit contentious issues,” she added.

Guam is not part of the process, but local leaders are seeking to get their own agenda on the table.

During the Aug. 21 hearing at the legislature, Carlotta Leon Guerrero, the governor's chief adviser on military and regional affairs, suggested that Guam ask to be allowed to use the $586 million in unreimbursed Compact costs to offset the matching fund requirements for federal grants.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has formalized the debt swap proposal in a letter to Domenech. The DOI official, however, clarified apparent misconceptions about the scope of the ongoing negotiation and the unrealistic expectations they create.

“Some people assume that the topics of discussions are broad and wide-ranging,” Domenech said. “The reality is, our assignment is to negotiate on the expiring provisions of the Compact with Palau, RMI and FSM. The current Compact actually goes on and its provisions can go on indefinitely.”

He emphasized that the ongoing negotiations with FAS teams only deal with financial assistance and access to a certain level of federal programs, and nothing else. Discussions on Compact Impact funds are not within the DOI’s turf. This issue requires a congressional act, he said.

“The Compact Impact is part of the Compact Act,” Domenech said. “We are negotiating the Compact agreements between the U.S. and each country. Then, Congress will put that into federal law. The Compact Impact is not part of agreements.”

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