FEDS WANT TOBACCO SETTLEMENT MONEY, SAYS AMERICAN SAMOA

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (February 22, 1999 - Samoa News)--A national organization of lawmakers is calling on its membership to push their Congressional representatives to support legislation that would not allow the federal government to tap into the billion dollar national tobacco suit settlement.

The national settlement, better known as the Master Settlement Agreement, which will give American Samoa more than $20 million over 25 years, is being threatened by the federal government's attempt to recoup the settlement money as Medicaid overpayments, says the organization.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is urging the leadership of state and territorial legislatures to "act now to prevent this unwarranted seizure of state tobacco settlement funds."

The NCSL claims that in 1997 states were notified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of its intention to recoup federal matching funds received through suits brought against the tobacco industry, citing a provision in the Medicaid law.

The organization noted that the federal government played no role in the national settlement announced on Nov. 23, 1998 for 46 states and all U.S. territories.

"States initiated the suits that ultimately led to the settlements. States assumed all risks. States used their resources to challenge the tobacco industry. The federal government played no role in the suits nor in the settlements," according to the group's President, Daniel T. Blue, in a letter to House Speaker Aina Saoluaga T. Nua.

The organization is asking the Speaker and members of the House to collaborate with the local government and write to American Samoa's representative in Congress, Delegate Eni Faleomavaega, to ask him to support legislation sponsored by Rep. Michael Bilirakis barring the federal government from seizing any portion of the tobacco settlement funds.

NCSL also asked states and territories to enact their own joint resolution putting the local legislation on record in support of states and territories retaining the entire settlement due to them and forward such resolution to Congress.

Responding to Samoa News inquires, Speaker Aina said he has received the letter from the NCSL and has been studying the request. He said a letter has been drafted and will be submitted to Congressman Faleomavaega.

"What portion of the settlement American Samoa receives is important to this territory and we are entitled to it," was Speaker Aina's reply for comments on the proposed federal move.

He also promised to provide further details when more information becomes available.

Congressman Faleomavaega is traveling with Congressman Don Young's delegation visiting U.S. Pacific Islands and could not be reached for comment on this issue.

Stories from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

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