Pacific territories must link up to press for Compact aid

by Jayvee Vallejera

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan Tribune): March 8, 2002 - The chairman of the CNMI House Committee on U.S. and Foreign Affairs, Rep. William S. Torres, wants the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Hawai'i to combine efforts to resolve the longstanding issue of federal assistance to the Pacific jurisdictions related to the Compact of Free Association.

In support, the House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 13-28 during yesterday's session, underscoring the need for a concerted effort in developing a unified and defensible formula in computing Compact impact costs.

Rep. Torres, who authored the resolution, said the unified formula would then be presented to the U.S. Congress for its adoption, to be used as a basis when allocating Compact impact appropriations.

The Compact of Free Association allows residents of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau to enter and work in the U.S. with virtually no restriction. This has led to significant migration by citizens of the three Micronesian areas to Guam, Hawai'i and the Northern Marianas.

Recognizing the added costs that these migrations would entail, the U.S. Congress included a provision in the Compact agreement that requires the federal government to identify the Compact's negative impact on the host areas and to make recommendations to eliminate the negative consequences.

The U.S. Congress is then supposed to allocate funds "as may be necessary" to cover the costs incurred that arise from the increased demands placed by immigrants on educational and social services.

Torres said that since the inception of the Compact agreements Guam has already spent $164 million in Compact-related costs. In FY 2001 alone, Guam spent $27.3 million for this purpose, he added.

Compact-related costs for Hawai'i were pegged at over $86 million between 1996 and 2000, with $64 million going to education alone since 1986.

As for the CNMI, Torres said the Commonwealth spent an estimated $37 million on Compact immigrants for Fiscal Years 1998, 1999 and 2000.

"The limited resources of the [CNMI] have been expended attributable to the Compact [...] in areas such as public housing, public elementary and high schools, health care services, correctional care services for youths, legal assistance, public safety and other social services," he said.

So far, Torres said the CNMI has received at least $1 million in Compact-impact aid from the U.S. Congress for FY 2001.

He said that Guam has been receiving at least $4.5 million annually. That increased to $9.58 million in FY2001 but has gone back to $5.38 million in the House version for FY2002, he added.

"Hawai'i received no allocation in the House version for fiscal year 2002, but $5 million was incorporated in the U.S. Senate version for the same fiscal year," he said.

This apparent disparity in the amount of compact-impact funding from the U.S. Congress, he said, may be attributed to a lack of a consensus on the methodology for calculating costs attributable to the Compact immigrants.

"This only emphasizes the need for a unified effort on the impacted jurisdictions of Hawai'i, Guam and the CNMI in developing a single formula for cost calculations to be presented to the U.S. Congress for its adoption," Torres said.

By working cooperatively in establishing a methodology for calculating compact impact costs, all Pacific areas can work together in seeking reimbursement from the U.S. Congress for the impact costs of Compact immigrants.

Copies of the resolution will be given to Guam Rep. Robert R. Underwood, Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones, Alaska Rep. Don Young, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes and Rhode Island Rep. James R. Langevin, U.S. President George W. Bush, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Speaker of the Guam Legislature, and legislative leaders of the Hawai'i State Legislature.