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Improvements needed to address growing migration

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - As some members of Congress continue to push policy proposals to increase Compact impact funding to places like Guam and Hawaii, the Government Accountability Office released a report that highlights improvements that are needed to assess and address growing migration. The report is the first of its kind in a decade and could aid in getting Guam more Compact impact funding.

Every year the Department of the Interior provides $30 million in Compact impact grants that is divided between Guam, the CNMI and Hawaii. The territory only receives $16.8 million a year, but Government of Guam officials believe the Compact-related costs are closer to $65 million a year.

GAO director of international affairs and trade David Gootnick said, "Migration is growing. We found that the numbers of migrants to Guam and elsewhere is increasing but remains concentrated primarily in Guam and Hawaii." The GAO study, which began back in February when representatives came to Guam, looked at four particular areas dealing with how counts of migrants are conducted, the impact of migration, the ways in which Compact grants are used and Compact sector grants given to the freely associated states and other areas.

He continued, "As the U.S. economic assistance is decreasing to Micronesia and the other Freely Associated States that private sector employment opportunities are very limited for individuals in Micronesia, and so migration is one of the limited set of options for individuals who are seeking a progressive standard of living."

That couldn't be more evident than in the numbers.  The GAO report shows that migration is growing in the U.S. mainland as ten states reported one thousand or more Compact migrants including California, Washington, Oregon, and Arkansas. Gootnick notes though, that Guam is the most popular location for migrants from Micronesia.

"Migrants from Micronesia represent about 12% of the population residing in Guam so it's an important issue there. The percentage of the population in Hawaii is considerably smaller almost 1% of the residents of Hawaii are from the Compacts, but it remains an important issue for both locations," he added.

The GAO also found that the DOI has failed to adequately provide guidance on estimating the impacts of the Compact and that as of August of this year, Guam had approximately $14.2 million in Compact impact grant funding from prior years that has yet to be expended.

While Gootnick is hopeful the report will be used as the basis for good policy decision making, Senator Frank Blas, Jr. says now that congress has the details, it's time that Guam be reimbursed. "But with that said, let's move forward, now we have a report, it shows that there hasn't been enough money. Let's start to address those issues, let's start to address the amounts owed and how we're going to be able to properly reimburse the proper jurisdictions in the future," he said.

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