Interior secretary announces grant to aide Compact migration
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made her first official trip to Guam today, and announced a significant new move to help the island deal with the costs of Compact migration. Speaking before a group of local business leaders, Secretary Jewell acknowledged the huge funding shortfall in what Guam says it needs, and what the federal government is able to provide.
But she hopes her announcement of a "one-stop center" is a big step in the right direction.
"It's hard to navigate your way through the federal government," she detailed. "It's hard to figure out where to go and what services might be available. So these centers are designed to coordinate and share governmental and non-governmental job training, education, and health awareness opportunities for the citizens of the Freely Associated States. We're going to open up our first one in Hawaii later this summer, and I'm going to announce today that, under Esther [Kia'aina's] guidance and leadership, we're going to open a center in Guam before the end of this year, and we've got an initial $250,000 grant to do so." The announcement was met with a loud round of applause.
Officials hope that by helping FSM migrants better adjust to Guam, it will also help mitigate the strain on public resources. The one-stop center is just part of the Interior Department's strategy to pull together as many resources as it can, in the face of scarce funding. In 2013 alone, Governor Eddie Calvo estimated the cost to GovGuam of FSM migration was $128 million.
Congress has been reluctant to provide any more money beyond the statutorily required $30 million per year that all of the insular areas and Hawaii must share. So Kia'aina, the assistant secretary for insular affairs, is heading up a multi-agency federal task force aimed at keeping Guam issues at the forefront. Represented on the group will be the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Labor and Defense.
Kia'aina continued, "You know, in our work in the Insular, just as in our work and Interior's work with the Indian tribes, what is most important is just keeping these issues on the radar, and all the jobs we have as secretaries are big and complex and require prioritization. But unless we have a steady voice, which we have, and we will have with this interagency group, it's too easy for it to drop off the radar."
The secretary also said Guam is a critical hub in America's strategic rebalance toward Asia. The Interior is working with the Defense Department in resolving environmental issues so that the long-delayed military build-up can start. But the head of the agency charged with protecting many of the nation's natural resources also advised Guam must be prudent. She said, "You've got to make sure that there's long term sustainable growth. And the development of the military is not at the expense of the things you've held so dear for so many years."
In her whirlwind stop-over on Guam the Interior secretary also visited the Veteran's Memorial to lay a wreath, and the War in the Pacific National Park to learn about the damaging impact of the rhino beetle on the local environment.