By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Committee members noted that the nation's policymakers lack a complete picture of the territories' individual populations, labor force and agricultural data, leading to underfunding of certain federal programs intended for them.
“Our policy decisions are only as good as the data that inform them,” said
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, the main proponent of the Territories Statistics Collection Equity Act, which was first introduced in the previous Congress.
“As long as our data collection for U.S. territories is incomplete and out-of-date, residents will continue to be denied the equitable access to resources they deserve," he added.
The Territories Statistics Collection Equity Act is cosponsored by the delegates of the five U.S. territories—Rep. Aumua Amata Radewagen (R-American Samoa), Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-CNMI), Rep. Jim Moylan (R-Guam), Rep. Jenniffer González Colón (R-Puerto Rico), and Rep. Stacey E. Plaskett (D-USVI).
"I’m grateful to stand alongside all five territorial delegates on this bill and urge my House colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move this legislation forward quickly," Grijalva said.
Under the proposed bill, the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy would be mandated to develop and implement a plan to collect and publish statistics regarding the U.S. territories in the same manner as states.
The council advises the Office of Management and Budget in setting statistical policy and facilitates coordination across numerous federal statistical systems.
A December 2022 brief from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and Equally American highlighted how insufficient data about the U.S. territories prevents policymakers from making informed decisions for residents on issues like education, health care, and emergency preparedness.
With residents of U.S. territories being predominantly people of color, failing to correct these data issues deepens existing racial justice and equity issues.
The center's brief noted that inconsistent data collection methods for U.S. territories across federal agencies are partly to blame for incomplete data.
The Government Accountability Office also recently found that major crises, such as hurricanes and the Covid-19 pandemic, have created data collection issues for the territories.
In April 2022, Grijalva requested that GAO conduct a more comprehensive review of data collection gaps for U.S. territories and how those gaps have affected federal funding.
Equally American, an advocate for the U.S. territories, noted that "when the federal government fails to treat residents of U.S. territories the same as residents of other U.S. jurisdictions in federal data collection, it sends the message that they do not count - both literally and figuratively."
"Whether you live in a state, territory, or the District of Columbia should not impact how you and your community are counted in the U.S. Census and other federal statistics," Equally American said.
Climate Strong Islands Network, a coalition of U.S. island entities in the region, endorsed the Territories Statistics Collection Equity Act.
“Like U.S. states, the territories need consistent and timely data across federal agencies to make sure our communities don’t get left behind," the network said. "Equitable data collection for U.S. territories will increase access to vital federal programs and support key policy decisions."