Habele Founder: Interior Dept. Worsening Bad Situation for Migrants
News Release from Habele.org, May 31, 2016
America’s Department of State should replace the Department of the Interior (DOI) as the primary US agency responsible for relations with Micronesia. That’s the argument made by former Peace Corps Volunteer and founder of the “Habele” charity in an opinion column published on May 31st in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
In his editorial, Mellen cites both the struggles of migrants in the US, as well as failure of DOI –and specifically its Office of Insular of Affairs (OIA)– to effectively “advance social, political and economic develop [within] in Micronesia and the Marshalls,” as indicators of the problem.
Mellen describes the costly efforts of DOI since 1951 as a “startling failure,” sympathizing that for FAS citizens, “leaving stagnant, semi-cash, local economies for better lives on Guam or Hawaii is no longer just a rational choice for many FAS migrants, it is virtually axiomatic.”
Mellen’s argument for replacing Interior with State stems from his conclusion that correcting the US-FSM relationship is a strategic necessity for the US, and is inseparable from the need for better social and economic development within the Islands. He argues this requires expertise in development as well as foreign relations, which Interior’s own track record fails to reflect. As further evidence, Mellen points to moves by Interior in recent years to “micromanage” or even “withhold” funds from projects in the FSM, obligated by treaties such as the Compact of Free Association (COFA).
The Department of State is the sole US executive agency formally responsible for diplomacy and international relations. It was the first executive department established by the US in 1789. In Micronesia the same role is filled by the FSM Department of Foreign Affairs.
The US Department of the Interior is responsible for the management of most federal land and natural resources, the administration of programs for native First Peoples within US, as well as issues pertaining to territories and so-called “insular” areas of the US.
Micronesia (FSM), Palau, and the Marshall Islands (RMI) are the only three independent, sovereign, nations legally recognized by the United States government whose relationship with the US are not primarily mediated through the US Department of State. According to Mellen, that needs to change.
Neil Mellen was a Peace Corps volunteer in Micronesia (Yap, 2002-05) and leads Habele, an all-volunteer nonprofit based in South Carolina, serving low-income and rural K-12 students within Micronesia.
Star-Adv: Interior Department bungling making COFA mess worse
…Every year, Hawaii taxpayers shoulder $100 million in costs for programs guaranteed under the terms of the Compacts of Free Association (COFA). On Guam, the cost is over $50 million. The amount sent from Washington to offset these expenses? Just 16 cents for every dollar spent.
Nearly half of FAS migrants in Hawaii draw public food assistance. On Guam, the number is 58 percent. In Hawaii, nearly a third also receive supplemental welfare payments. A third of FAS migrants on Guam reside in public housing, and the number in Hawaii is presumed even higher. About 5 percent of migrants on Guam and 12 percent in Hawaii, are homeless. Only small numbers maintain health insurance and participate in preventative care. The result is costly emergency room visits.
This could have been avoided. Since 1951, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has spent hundreds of millions in American tax dollars to advance social, political and economic development in Micronesia and the Marshalls.
The failure is startling. Leaving stagnant, semi-cash, local economies for better lives on Guam or Hawaii is no longer just a rational choice for many FAS migrants; it is virtually axiomatic.
In recent years, Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) has reacted to its own blunders by further micromanaging the hundreds of millions in aid that it is obligated to provide.
In some cases, OIA has simply withheld the money. Predictably, this has fueled the exodus.
Rather than deal with the underlying problems it helped create, OIA is now training migrants to maximize their dependency on taxpayer-funded services in Guam and Hawaii. This disastrous policy includes awarding grants to so-called “One-Stop Centers.”
Caseworkers at these centers are trained to immediately sign up migrants for entitlements, equipping them to aggressively cash in on the vast number of benefits available.
One DOI-funded group goes further, organizing migrants to advocate for changing what they term “unjust laws and practices that affect Micronesians in areas of health care, housing, labor, and education services.”
Taxpayer money for these groups was cannibalized from a Technical Assistance fund intended to promote accountability, financial management and economic development within the FAS itself….
read … Thanks to Esther Kia'aina