Insular areas group meeting focuses on Compact impact - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Insular areas group meeting focuses on Compact impact

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 by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - It marked the fifth annual meeting of the Interagency Group on Insular Areas. The group was reestablished by President Barack Obama in 2010 to address policies for United States territories. Specifically, they meet with island governors and other elected officials to hear their concerns, then relay and advise the president on establishing, modifying and implementing federal policies that advance insular area issues.

As expected during today's IGIA meeting Governor Eddie Calvo and Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo pointed out the inequities of Compact impact. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made the opening comments during Tuesday's meeting in the nation's capitol, and stated the obvious. "We need to raise the cap of the $30 million because the impact particularly on Guam and the Marianas and Hawaii is dramatic," she announced.

Calvo and Bordallo couldn't agree more as the impact of the Compacts of Free Association for decades has been taking its toll on Guam. For example, Calvo said in 2014 alone Compact impact costs were measured at $144 million. Guam's subsidy? $14 million.

"I might as well say it," said the governor. "GovGuam agencies right now are at a breaking point." Bordallo added, "You heard the hard facts from our governor and they continually get worse as we go on."

The governor, as he's done many times before outlined the impact COFA has had on critical agencies such as the Guam Memorial Hospital, the Department of Education and the Department of Corrections. But adding insult to injury is the fact that although Guam has done its part in submitting its reports to justify reimbursements, the General Accountability Office in a recent report was critical of the island's reporting methodology. Ironically, the reports were based on templates provided by the feds.

"We're saying okay what template do you want us to use, and we have not gotten that feedback yet on what that template would be acceptable," he said.

But aside from pointing out problems, Calvo and the congresswoman presented solutions such as improving existing federal programs and matching offsets to fund federal programs for unreimbursed Compact impact costs. "Like the Medicaid match or other grant programs," he said.

Both Guam leaders stressed the importance of prioritizing the need to address the issue now. "Whatever the crisis is right now will just magnify multiply tenfold in the upcoming years if we don't get a handle on this," Calvo said.

Bordallo said, "I understand I truly understand the need to balance priorities, but I am disturbed that when an issue like climate change takes first and sweeping priority over a long standing and equally urgent issue such as compact impact."

Spending a part of her childhood in Guam and from coming from a family that once owned a successful local landscaping company that was the largest private employer of the FAS community in the 80's and 90's, assistant secretary of insular areas Esther Kiaiana said she hears them loud and clear. "We need to do better and I appreciate you sharing what the challenges are in the territory of Guam," she expressed.

During today's IGIA meeting it was also announced that in the first week of June, a two-day stakeholder meeting between all territorial leaders and federal stakeholders will be held on Guam on climate change and adaptation strategies. 
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