Hawaii Carrying the Financial Burden of the Compact of Free Association

by Staff on April 8, 2011

Will the federal government help Hawaii provide healthcare to migrants?

While Hawaii struggles to provide its own citizens with adequate and affordable healthcare and housing, the state has also been forced by the federal government to provide these services to Micronesians, Marshallese and other Pacific Islanders, under the Compact of Free Association.

It’s not that Hawaii is hesitant to share its aloha with its Pacific Island neighbors, but the debt-ridden state simply cannot carry the financial burden alone.  And it shouldn’t have to.  The Compact was originally approved based on a reciprocal relationship:  The US would continue to use defense sites in the Pacific Islands, in exchange for granting financial assistance and migration rights to Micronesians, Marshallese and other Pacific Islanders.

But the federal government has failed to follow through on its promises, dumping the majority of the responsibility on Hawaii.  The Star Advertiser reported that our state government spends more than $120 million a year on services for the migrants.  The federal government’s contribution? Just $11 million.

In an effort to save the state from drowning in debt, a reduced benefits plan called Basic Health Hawaii was put into effect in July 2010.  But before the year’s end, Marshallese and Micronesian groups brought a federal class action lawsuit, alleging discrimination, in front of a federal judge and won.  The judge ordered the state to restore the migrants’ lifesaving health benefits, consequently ordering a debt sentence for the state of Hawaii.

Why didn’t the migrant groups file a suit against the federal government instead?  Wasn’t it the federal government who made the Compact promises in the first place?  How can Hawaii assist the many migrants that seek refuge and lifesaving health care in our state without overburdening our own taxpayers?  Isn’t it time that the federal government stepped up and came through on its promises?

These are just some of the questions many residents of Hawaii are asking.  If you, too, are interested in the answers or have questions of your own, you will have a chance to discuss these issues at the State Capitol on Tuesday, April 19, 2011.  From noon to 1:30 PM, in State Capitol Room 225, Senator J. Kalani English will be on hand to discuss Hawaii’s past, present, and future relations with the Pacific Island Nations.  This will be an incredible opportunity to share your concerns on this relevant and delicate issue with the knowledgeable and experienced Senator English, who currently represents the 6th Senate District in Maui County (encompassing Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i and Kaho’olawe), is immediate past president of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures, and was an adviser to the Permanent Mission of the Federated States of Micronesia to the UN.

If you plan on attending the meeting, you must RSVP to Arkie Koehl, the Vice President of Activities of the Harvard Club of Hawaii by emailing him at arkie@arkoehl.com.

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