US Secretary Of The Interior Jewell Visits Guam

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Cost of COFA migration, military buildup tops agenda

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, July 6, 2015) – Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, in her first official trip to Guam as a Cabinet official, recognized the government of Guam’s financial toll as host to an increasing number of regional migrants. At the same time, getting Congress’ approval for additional funding for Guam, or for any federal purpose, is getting increasingly difficult, Jewell said.

The Department of the Interior can help Guam by looking for ways within existing federal programs or funding sources, Jewell said.

Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands can freely enter the United States under their island nations’ compacts of free association agreements with the United States. More than 18,000 citizens from the three island nations have chosen to move to Guam, making up more than 11 percent of the island’s population.

GovGuam has reported more than $100 million a year in costs associated with providing public services to regional migrants, but Guam receives just a fraction of that amount from the federal government.

Reforms on the U.S. welfare program had the unintended consequence of disqualifying regional migrants from medical and other federal government-funded services, and Jewell said her department would try to work with other federal entities to ease the impact of regional migration on Guam.

"We are going to see if we can address that, as opposed to just pushing for additional federal money, which is very difficult to come by right now for any program in this current Congress," Jewell said. "So we are going to be as creative as we can be, recognizing that this is a very significant problem that’s not gonna get better over time."

Jewell said a recent example of the welfare reform’s unintended consequence was the disqualification of regional migrants from federally funded programs to help Guam recover from Typhoon Dolphin. Interior dipped into its budget to help the government of Guam pay for Typhoon Dolphin recovery costs for regional migrants, Jewell said.

[PIR editor’s note: Marianas Variety reported that ‘Gov. Eddie Calvo called on Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to help advance Guam’s efforts in getting tourist visa waivers for China and Vietnam.’]

Interior also continues to hold talks with Department of Defense representatives on the military buildup.

Two agencies under Interior — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Parks Service — have voiced concerns on the military’s plan to use part of the Guam National Wildlife Refuge at Ritidian as a safety zone for a proposed Marine live-fire training range complex.

The proposed firing range will be within Andersen Air Force Base, but part of adjacent Ritidian’s beach and cultural sites, including the ruins of an ancient Chamorro village, could be restricted from public access for more than half of the year as a safety precaution during live-fire training.

Interior’s Fish and Wildlife agency has voiced concern on potential damage to habitat for certain endangered or threatened species if the military’s expansion plans result in bulldozing a significant amount of jungle.

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