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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
Case: COFA Renewal on Verge of Approval
By Ed Case @ 12:01 AM :: 2487 Views :: World News, Congressional Delegation

Amata Welcomes Opportunity to Pass COFA Legislation as a Pacific Security Priority

News Release from Del Aumua Amata, R-AS, March 4, 2024

Washington, D.C. – Early Saturday morning, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Mike Johnson informed Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata that House leaders had reached bipartisan agreement on a package of spending bills that includes renewal and funding for the Compacts of Free Association (COFA).  Members of the full House will be asked to approve the bills this coming week. 

“Amata is a valued member of our conference,” said the Speaker. “I worked closely with her and particularly appreciated her leadership on the COFA renewal, which is of great importance to national security. When it comes to Pacific Island issues in the House, we always look to Amata.”

Amata expressed her appreciation for the Speaker’s confidence and thanked him “for keeping me informed as he worked with other House leaders in deciding on the legislative vehicle for this urgent national security priority.”  The Congresswoman played a key role in moving the bill through the House, serving as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee’s Indo-Pacific Task Force, which took the lead in addressing the legislation proposed by the Biden Administration following diplomatic negotiations with the three compact nations.

“Under House rules, Members must be given 72 hours to review the content of the legislation,” explained Amata, “so we anticipate a vote for final passage on Wednesday.”  Once adopted by the House and Senate, COFA will serve as the foundation for relations for the next generation with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau.

“As a representative from among the Pacific Island peoples, it was an honor to have a part in this historic legislation,” she continued. In addition to having been raised in American Samoa, her family lived in the Marshalls and Marianas for 17 years and she was schooled in Hawaii before graduating from the University of Guam.

“Most importantly, the COFA agreements send a clear message of U.S. commitment to the Pacific region and take a much-needed international strong stand for the ideals of democracy and freedom.”

After task force hearings chaired by Amata in July at Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman’s behest, the full committee adopted the measure unanimously and reported it out to the House.

The legislation, once approved by Congress and signed by President Biden, will continue to affirm the COFA states’ sovereignty and deep friendship with the U.S., and ensure U.S. defense of an area of the Pacific waters the size of the contiguous 48 U.S. states. House leadership, recognizing the immense policy importance, has included COFA in a package of spending bills that require passage by Friday to stave off a partial closure of the federal government when a temporary funding agreement is due to expire.

In addition to taking the opportunity to express appreciation to Chairman Westerman for asking her to chair the COFA task force, she also thanked him for the time, effort and leadership he exercised to oversee the process. 

“I was grateful that the chairman led a committee delegation to the capitals of the three COFA states to meet in person with their respective heads of government and hear firsthand of their concerns.  It was important exposure for delegation members, which strengthened their understanding of these islands,” concluded the Congresswoman.

The Congresswoman’s other committee assignments as co-chair of the Congressional Pacific Islands Caucus, Vice Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Indo-Pacific Subcommittee and Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs gave her three additional platforms to press for House action on the Pacific pacts.

With the Speaker’s blessing, the Congresswoman called the three FAS presidents and two governors Saturday to give them the good news in advance of the Sunday formal release of the details of the funding package.

  *   *   *   *   *

Congress On The Verge Of Approving Compact Of Free Association (COFA) Agreements Vital To Relationship Between The United States And Pacific Island Nations

Case says the legislation pending full Congressional approval this week would also further extend federal benefits to COFA citizens who reside in Hawai‘i and in other states across the country for services now incorrectly paid for by states and others

News Release from Office of Rep Ed Case, Washington, DC, March 4, 2024

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Congressman Ed Case (D-HI-01) said today that a five-year effort to renew agreements with the Freely Associated States (FAS) -the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands - are included in the $460 billion federal funding measure now before the House for a critical vote this week.

Case said while approval of the funding measure will prevent a partial government shutdown, the measure also includes provisions to extend federal benefits to FAS citizens who reside in the United States and its Territories in the Pacific.

Those provisions are from the Compact Impact Fairness Act (CIFA), a bill co-introduced last year by Case and Congressman Steve Womack (R-AR-03) which, along with a companion measure by Senator Mazie Hirono, called for the restoration of a range of federal benefits that provide relief to states like Hawai‘i with large communities of FAS citizens.

“It is fundamentally unfair for our federal government to ignore its obligations under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) that are national in interest and scope and then impose the responsibility for providing basic services to FAS citizens on state and territorial governments,” said Congressman Case.

“The CIFA provisions in the $460 billon funding measure will extend to FAS citizens the same basic federal benefits provided to other legal permanent residents and thus pay for basic services that the states and territories are now forced to provide themselves.”

Case continued: “There is also no reason that federal law should distinguish between FAS citizens and other legal resident non-citizens in eligibility for these key social safety net federal programs. FAS citizens are important members of our communities that contribute to our economies and deserve the same support from our federal government.

“The CIFA, which we first introduced in the 116th Congress (2019-2021), would correct this omission in the 1996 welfare reform law and ensure FAS citizens legally working and residing in the United States are treated basically the same as any other legal resident non-citizen for these purposes.”

Approval of the funding measure would restore eligibility for FAS citizens to receive public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Services Block Grants (SSBG), education assistance, and other programs that they were restricted from accessing as part of the 1996 welfare reform law.

The vote on the funding measure comes after Case and Womack and 46 other House colleagues sent a letter urging House Speaker Mike Johnson in a bipartisan effort to facilitate Congressional approval of their Compact of Free Association (COFA) Amendments Act of 2023 at the earliest opportunity.

“The Compacts are central not only to our longstanding relationships with Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, but to our country’s standing in the broader Pacific,” said Case.

“The delay in providing Congressional approval is being used to sow doubt as to whether we can be trusted to stand by our commitments to our Pacific partners. The necessary legislative measure is fully vetted and ready for final approval in the House and should be approved now.”

This letter builds on Case’s and Womack’s longstanding bipartisan work to support FAS citizens who reside in the United States, many who live in Hawai‘i and Arkansas, and to strengthen the partnerships between the U.S. and countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

 *   *   *   *   *

Case, Womack Urge Immediate Congressional Approval Of Agreements Vital To Relationship Between The United States and Pacific Island Nations

The two House members are leading a bipartisan effort to finalize renewal of the Compacts of Free Association with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands

News Release from offices of U.S. Congressman Ed Case (D-HI-01) and U.S. Congressman Steve Womack (R-AR-03)

Washington, DC, February 22, 2024

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Congressman Ed Case (D-HI-01) and U.S. Congressman Steve Womack (R-AR-03) are leading a bipartisan effort to urge U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson to endorse and facilitate approval by the U.S. Congress of their Compact of Free Association (COFA) Amendments Act of 2023 at the earliest opportunity.

The two, both of whose serve on the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, headed a letter (copy attached), co-signed by 46 other Democratic and Republican House members including many members of the Appropriations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Natural Resources Committee on which Case also serves with jurisdiction over the Compacts, and the Pacific Islands Caucus which Case co-chairs, urging the Speaker to include the COFA amendments in the next available legislative vehicle.

“Congress must approve the recently renegotiated Compacts of Free Association as soon as possible,” said Case.

“The Compacts are central not only to our longstanding relationships with Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, but to our country’s standing in the broader Pacific.

“The delay in providing Congressional approval is being used to sow doubt as to whether we can be trusted to stand by our commitments to our Pacific partners. The necessary legislative measure is fully vetted and ready for final approval in the House and should be approved now.”

“The Compacts of Free Association got the bipartisan stamp of approval from the House Natural Resources Committee in November for a reason—these agreements are vital to our national security and our community in Northwest Arkansas,” said Womack.

“The next step is House passage, and there’s no time to waste. We must immediately approve this crucial legislation to instill confidence in our ability to uphold our commitments to critical security partners, longtime friends, and allies.”

The legislative vehicles immediately before the House and Senate in which Case and Womack and their colleagues are aiming to include their Compacts approval legislation are the Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations measures. Congress returns to session next week with the goal of addressing those measures.

This letter builds on Case’s and Womack’s longstanding bipartisan work to support the citizens of the Freely Associated States of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau who reside in the United States, many in Hawai‘i and Arkansas, and to strengthen the partnerships between the U.S. and countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Attachment: letter to Speaker Johnson

###

Schatz: Appropriations Package Set To Extend COFA Agreements With Key Indo-Pacific Partners, Expand Medical Care For Veterans Living In Freely Associated States

Hirono, Colleagues Urge Senate Leadershi... | Senator Mazie Hirono

HNN: Impasse on Pacific nation agreement exposes ‘fundamentally unfair’ finances 

SN: Hirono, Schatz laud COFA inclusion in appropriations package 

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