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Federal funds help Pacific Islanders in Hawai‘i

HONOLULU — Governor Josh Green, M.D., has accepted an FY 2023 Compact Impact grant of $15,798,564 from U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Carmen G. Cantor, to help defray the state’s costs of providing services to citizens of the Freely Associated States who live in Hawaiʻi.

The Freely Associated States include the Marshal Islands, Palau and Micronesia, all those islands having several populations on Kaua‘i.

“We welcome this generous assistance from the federal government in helping to care for our brothers and sisters from other Pacific islands,” said Green. “We are one ‘ohana, and as governor I am committed to helping residents of Hawaiʻi receive the access to services they need. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw Pacific Islanders disproportionately hard-hit, having the worst rate of infections, despite making up only 4 percent of our population,” he said.

“I was pleased to meet with Governor Green and reiterate Interior’s continued commitment to working with the state of Hawai‘i with respect to Compact Impact issues,” said Cantor.

The state Department of Human Services has been a strong advocate for Hawai‘i residents from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau, which are members of the Compact of Free Association.

The department recognizes the barriers to accessing quality health care this community has faced, and in December of 2020 Congress restored Medicaid eligibility for U.S. residents from those nations.

In the state’s 2022 fiscal year, approximately 16,300 members of the COFA population residing in Hawai‘i received medical insurance coverage or premium assistance.

“Hawai‘i is the beneficiary of added diversity and cultural richness that is brought by our Pacific Island neighbors from these Federal Compact nations,” said Cathy Betts, director of the state Department of Human Services.

“This grant continues to further our commitment to providing access to vital medical insurance coverage. Many of our Pacific Island neighbors from these nations, like other communities, suffer the effects of social drivers of health. This is why maintaining available access to medical insurance coverage is critical,” she said.

Eligibility for many of the safety net programs for these Pacific Islanders was cut off, due to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which Hawai‘i’s congressional delegation has been working to correct.

The COFA treaties were first signed into law by then-President Ronald Reagan, and allowed citizens of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands to move to the United States without time limits or the burden of obtaining visas. The treaties recognize the responsibility the U.S. has to these nations for activities including nuclear testing from 1946 to 1958.

Transfer of the funds to the state was anticipated in a matter of days, according to a press release from the governor’s office issued Jan. 20.
Source: The Garden Island

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