Guam, Other Jurisdictions Overstate Compact Impact Costs: GAO

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Report: Estimates don’t include federal funding, revenue from migrants

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 7, 2016) – The government of Guam has recently reported it spent $149 million to provide services to Compact migrants last year, raising GovGuam’s tally to close to $1 billion over a dozen years, a federal office’s report to a U.S. Senate committee states.

However, a federal government entity said GovGuam’s numbers, as well as the tab presented by other local government which host of the regional migrants, are in doubt.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office questions the accuracy and credibility of the numbers, in part because the host local governments "did not include federal funding that supplemented local expenditures, or include revenue received from Compact migrants," the office stated in a report.

David Gootnick, director of GAO’s International Affairs and Trade, submitted the report as he testified before a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Guam time.

Hawaii and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas’ reported Compact migrant costs also raise questions, according to the report.

"We have previously found that the three affected jurisdictions’ cost estimates contained a number of limitations with regard to accuracy, adequate documentation, and comprehensiveness," according to the accountability office’s report.

Before last year’s reported cost, GovGuam has sought reimbursement from the federal government for $825 million that the local government reported as the cost of services to regional migrants from 2003 to 2014.

The federal government has provided about $33 million a year, which Guam shares, primarily with Hawaii.

Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono told federal officials at the hearing that reimbursements for Guam and Hawaii’s costs for hosting regional migrants from the Compact states are "woefully inadequate."

Citizens of three tiny island nations — Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands — can enter the United States and stay indefinitely under their governments’ Compact of Free Association agreements with the United States.

Hirono suggested that the federal government allow the regional migrants to qualify for welfare programs, particularly Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or food stamp program, and cash aid under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Gootnick said the annual $33 million funding to help Guam, Hawaii and the Northern Marianas cope with regional migrants is expiring in 2023.

"While Compact migration is likely to continue to grow, that source of funding is likely to go away," Gootnick said.

National security

A $149 million, multi-year Compact funding package for Palau also was an issue at Wednesday’s hearing.

Five years ago, Palau and the United States agreed to the funding package for the island nation under the Compact, but that agreement still awaits Congress’ approval.

The United States can use Palau’s land and sea for defense purposes under the Compact.

The island nation is located between Guam and the Philippines.

"This bill is a national security priority because Palau is strategically located in the Western Pacific — a region of growing international tension," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, a ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"Nonetheless, despite this national security imperative and broad bipartisan support, the committee has been unable to move the bill forward for five years," Cantwell said at the hearing.

Under a congressional budget-tightening mode, the proposed funding package for Palau has been stuck as Congress requires spending cuts elsewhere in the national budget to offset the $149 million for Palau, officials said at the hearing.

Senators in the committee, including Hirono, Cantwell and Cory Gardner, urged the Interior Department to work closely with the departments of Defense, State and Energy to find a way to fund the Compact money for Palau.

Over the past several years, Interior has used about $13 million in discretionary funds to help Palau while waiting for Congress’ approval on the funding package, according to various testimony at the hearing.

Home to about 21,000 people, Palau has stood as one of America’s "steadfast allies," Gardner, R-Colorado, said.

"They vote with the U.S. in the United Nations more than any other nation except for Israel," Gardner said.

"Palau was the first nation to step forward and resettle detainees from our base in Guantanamo Bay to their island nation," Gardner added. "We should be mindful of, and grateful for, their support."

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