By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Federal assistance that would be pipelined directly to freely associated states migrants under a proposed law must not edge out the funding for communities that host them, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said.
During a meeting with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Saturday, Leon Guerrero said she would push for Washington to renew the funding for U.S. jurisdictions that are impacted by visa-free migration under the U.S.’s Compacts of Free Association with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
The $30 million compact impact funding shared annually among Guam, the Northern Marianas, American Samoa and Hawaii will expire on Sept. 30 after a 20-year run. The funding is designed to help defray the costs incurred by host jurisdictions for providing services to compact migrants.
The Biden administration, however, did not include the funding renewal in the 2024 budget request. In a bid to justify the elimination of compact aid for Guam and other Pacific territories, the Department of the Interior reported earlier this year that the distribution of FAS migrants has shifted since 2003, with more than half of the total number now spread out across the mainland U.S.
In lieu of a new compact impact program, U.S. lawmakers have introduced a bicameral bill, titled “The Compact Impact Fairness Act,” that would deliver federal assistance straight to the FAS migrants, hence cutting out the middleman.
While expressing support for the Compact Impact Fairness Act, Leon Guerrero opposed the elimination of compact reimbursements.
“CIFA should not replace the $30 million in compact funds received by the COFA-impacted U.S. territories as these funds are spent separately from the social benefits,” the governor said.
According to the local government's report in May, Guam incurred $76.8 million in costs for providing social services to FAS citizens in 2019 and 2020 alone. The federal government has not acknowledged the $1.5 billion in compact-related costs that GovGuam said it has incurred since 2003.
The territory currently receives about $14 million in annual compact reimbursements from the $30 million allocated for host jurisdictions.
She asked Haaland to support Guam Del. James Moylan’s amendment to extend $16 million for next year.
“Specific to COFA negotiations, our administration is working to ensure we receive adequate reimbursement for compact impact expenses, and we will continue to push for this as Congress begins the task of reviewing and amending the renegotiated compacts that (the Departments of) Interior and State have put together,” the governor said.
Haaland led a group of Washington officials who visited Guam over the weekend. She was accompanied by Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Carmen G. Cantor and Deputy Assistant to the President and Asian American and Pacific Islander Senior Liaison Erika L. Moritsugu.