(BIVN) – U.S. Representative Ed Case (D-HI) had the chance to speak on the record with Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt on Wednesday during a hearing in Washington, and the focus of the discussion was the economic impact of the Compacts of Free Association to Hawaiʻi.
House Committee on Natural Resources held a full committee hearing on “U.S. Department of the Interior Budget and Policy Priorities for FY 2020”, in which Sec. Bernhardt testified.
Rep. Case sits on the House Committee on Natural Resources. “I thank you for the time you spent in my office,” Case told Bernhardt, saying “we discussed a number of issues in my office to include tour helicopters who are flying over our national parks and destroying the ambiance, and full implementation of the National Parks Air Tour Management Plan,” as well as the USS Arizona, endangered species funding, and other topics.
Rep. Case turned to the topic of the Compacts of Free Association, in which “the health care funding goes through the roof because many, many of the compact country folks come to Hawaiʻi,” Case said. “Their health care needs are taken care of through our state Medicare program.”
The Compacts of Free Association, or COFA, is an international agreement between the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau. The Compact provides assistance in the form of direct grants in six sectors: education, health care, infrastructure, public sector capacity building, private sector development, and environment.
Case told Bernhardt that Hawaiʻi views the current level of federal compact aid as “completely insufficient”.
Case said Hawaiʻi has calculated COFA health care costs alone “at somewhere in the range of $100 million,” and if you calculate the cost to education, “you come up with another $200 million.”
“So pretty soon you’re talking about some real money, that is paid for by Hawaiʻi, $300 million plus, for which we get somewhere in the range of $14 million dollars of compact impact aid,” Case said.
“We welcome the folks from the compact countries coming to Hawaiʻi. They’ve been an incredible contribution to our community, to our ʻohana as we say, to our economy, and we look forward to that continuing,” Case said. “But we cannot absorb that level of economic consequence and continue to support the compact overall. The compact is a very, very strong initiative by our country fulfilling historical trust obligations from the trust territories and increasingly – as you and I discussed – it is a critical part of our overall national defense strategy, because certainly many other countries would like to would like to basically get more involved with those countries, primarily China.”
“It seems to me that fitting the compact issues into the Department of the Interior – to include compact impact aid – and to treat it as a continuing obligation from a trust perspective is trying to fit the shoes into the wrong box. And it seems to me that as we take a look at the big picture, and we’re starting the renegotiations on the compact right now, with two of those three countries, we should be looking increasingly to our defense obligations as opposed to the Department of the Interior. I just wanted to ask for your thoughts on that. Do you think that’s a productive approach for us to start to take?” Case asked the Interior Secretary.
“I appreciate that question a lot,” said Sec. David Bernhardt, “I don’t have the authority to say whether it should be in a budget, but I will tell you this: that those areas mean a lot to our country, in a variety of ways, including our national security interests. And I do think that we are paying more and more attention than maybe was paid to those issues historically, because of that. I mean it certainly we paid a lot of attention after their World War Two, but I think there may have been some variation of the intensity. and I think we have a better perspective. So I think it merits thinking about this outside of the box compared to a small office within the Department the Interior.”
“I just think that as we go into this next round of negotiations and the related discussions on compact impact aid, Guam and Hawaiʻi simply cannot afford to continue down the status quo,” Rep. Case said.