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Conference Committee chops RECA expansion from 2024 defense bill

Robert Celestial, president of the Pacific Association of Radiation Survivors, shakes hands with Sen. Josh Hawley during the announcement of RECA amendment on Sept. 28. Photo courtesy of PARS

By Pacific Island Times News Staff

The Conference Committee has dropped the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act expansion from the compromise version of the 2024 national defense bill, which would have included Guam in the program.

"The primary reason for this decision was the cost factor, and while RECA advocates were able to identify various offsets, it wasn’t adequate when the conference met to vote on the measure," according to Guam Del. James Moylan.

The amendment was taken out of the $866 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which would have expanded the coverage area to allow more potential victims, those who lived downwind of above-ground atomic weapons tests in the 1950s and 1960s, known as “downwinders,” to file for compensation under RECA.

“Our team worked very closely with the co-sponsors of the RECA measures in both the House and the Senate to educate conferees on the importance of the amendment," Moylan said after the committee passed the NDAA Wednesday night.

"Our role was to ensure that the amendment was not dead upon arrival within the GOP majority in the House, primarily since the language did not identify a funding source, and that went against the rules of engagement,” he added.

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Despite the removal of the RECA amendment, Moylan said the compromise version of the bill included several provisions for Guam, such as the extension of a program that exempts Guam and the CNMI from the 66,000 national cap for H-2B visas.

Under the current law, the program is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2024. Moylan's proposed amendment to the defense bill would extend the expiration date to Dec. 31, 2029. “This is a huge victory for Guam, both from an economic and recovery perspective," Moylan said. "The NDAA authorizes over a billion dollars in new construction projects for Guam, but without the availability of skilled labor, the objectives would not have been met."

Moylan said the defense projects, along with the withholding taxes from the jobs they would create, would certainly spur Guam’s economic activity over the next few years.

"As our island continues to recover from Typhoon Mawar, opportunities to rebuild both inside and outside the fences would not be possible without labor. While GCC continues to graduate apprentices each year, they are unable to meet the demand which is needed,” Moylan said.

The 2024 NDAA advances from the Conference Committee to the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives for further action. It will require approvals in the House and the Senate, along with the signature of the President for it to be enacted.

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