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DOI says restoration of federal benefits for freely associated states migrants eases burden on host territories

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

The U.S. government has officially restored the federal benefits for migrants from the freely associated states through the Compact Impact Fairness Act, or CIFA, which President Joe Biden recently signed into law.

While CIFA makes welfare programs accessible to the citizens of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands who are living on U.S. soil, the U.S. government has stopped providing reimbursements to jurisdictions hosting the migrants under the Compacts of Free Association.

The compact impact funds for Guam, the Northern Marianas, American Samoa and Hawaii expired on Sept. 30, 2023 after 20 years in the running but the federal government did not renew the funding program. Instead, CIFA would cut out the middleman and channel public assistance directly to the FAS migrants.

“Benefits and compensation from the federal government will be available to FAS individuals in whichever state or territory within the United States that they reside, the Department of the Interior said in a press release. 

Interior officials said the new system would lift the burden off the shoulders of host communities.


“The law also ensures that the federal government provides, without significant additional administrative costs, a significant portion of the financial burden currently being borne by state and territorial governments of the FAS,” the department said.

Before the compact impact program expired, the U.S. government provided $30 million in annual appropriation divided among Guam, the CNMI, American Samoa and Hawaii to defray the costs of hosting the FAS migrants.

The government of Guam, however, maintained that the annual amount reimbursed by the federal government was not proportional to the actual cost incurred by local agencies for providing health care, education and other public services to the FAS community.

According to the Compact Impact Report for 2019 and 2020, the FAS tabs reached $76.8 million. Guam received about $14 million in annual compact reimbursements from the $30 million allocated for host jurisdictions.

Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii said CIFA, which he authored, would correct the 1996 welfare reform law, which omitted the FAS migrants’ eligibility for federal welfare programs.

“Restoring access to federal public benefits will address gaps in needed social services for families and have a significant impact on the communities where they reside,” the Department of the Interior said in a press release.


Under the new law, FAS citizens may apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, Social Services Block Grants, education assistance, and other programs that they were restricted from accessing as part of the 1996 welfare reform law.

“There is also no reason that federal law should distinguish between FAS citizens and other legal resident non-citizens in eligibility for these key social safety net federal programs,” Case said in a press release last week.

"FAS citizens are important members of our communities that contribute to our economies and deserve the same support from our federal government," he added.


While the SSI program applies to FAS migrants, U.S. citizens living on Guam, Puerto Rico and American Samoa do not have access to this benefit.

CIFA accompanied the newly signed Compact of Free Association Amendment Act of 2023, which renews the economic packages for Palau, the FSM and the Marshall Islands.


The amended COFA pledges $3.3 billion to the FSM, $2.3 billion to the Marshall Islands and $889 million to Palau over 20 years through 2043.

The funding will support the Pacific island nations' basic public services, such as health and education, improve infrastructure, and bolster the health of the Compact trust funds previously established for each of the FAS.

The packages total $7.1 billion including the $634 million U.S. postal service provision to the FAS.

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