Renewed benefits bring joy to Pacific migrants in Hawaii after years of fighting

In a remarkable development, federal benefits that were withdrawn from thousands of Pacific migrants in Hawaii in 1996 are now once again accessible to them.

Lawmakers in Hawaii have been persistently advocating for the restoration of these demands.

Hundreds of wildfire victims on Maui will also qualify for disaster assistance under a new federal law.

Congress recently passed the Compact Impact Fairness Act (CIFA).

The state has collaborated with the federal government to determine when Pacific migrants can receive their entitled benefits, as it has been providing over $7 billion in aid to Pacific nations over the span of 20 years.

According to the Compacts of Free Association (COFA), there are currently 20,000 to 30,000 Pacific migrants legally residing in Hawaii. These migrants come from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau.

Under the new federal legislation, individuals from the COFA countries residing in the United States can now access a range of federal benefits. These benefits include Social Security, food assistance, education assistance, and FEMA disaster relief.

“I am absolutely thrilled. There are no other words to express my gratitude. Thank you so much, mahalo,” exclaimed Shanty Asher, the city’s Pacific Islander liaison, during a recent event. She continued, “The positive impact that lies ahead will transform the lives of countless individuals, particularly as we strive to enhance our integration into society.”

U.S. Representative Ed Case (D-Hawaii) expressed his immense satisfaction and relief at witnessing the federal government finally make the right decision after a long and arduous battle.

According to the nonprofit organization We Are Oceania, they have provided assistance to approximately 300 COFA citizens on Maui who were displaced from their homes. Despite the dire need for temporary housing, FEMA was unable to provide support due to outdated federal regulations. Asher expressed disappointment in the system’s limitations, stating, “It was heartbreaking to witness the devastating impact of the situation, knowing that FEMA couldn’t help due to the numerous gaps and barriers.”

Scott Morishige, the administrator of the Benefit, Employment, and Support Services Division at the state Department of Human Services, is diligently working to expedite the distribution of benefits.

“But the details are where the challenge lies,” he added.

Officials have successfully secured retroactive payment for the disaster relief from FEMA. However, it is still uncertain when the citizens of the Pacific will start receiving the benefits.

COFA residents receive essential benefits in Hawaii, with the state paying a significant sum of $183 million annually for this purpose.

The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 eliminated benefits for COFA citizens, including Medicaid.

U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, expressed her long-standing dedication to this cause.

The new act brings forth an additional advantage whereby Veterans Affairs can extend healthcare services to veterans residing in the Freely Associated States. Furthermore, it grants veterans the freedom to relocate to their hometowns following their period of service.

This benefit is being offered for the first time.

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MBS Staff
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