WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Department of the Interior has made available two technical assistance grants totaling $467,095 to support one-stop centers in Guam and Hawaii that provide information and services to migrants from the freely associated states.
The amounts will go to the “Micronesia Resource Center” in Guam and the “We are Oceania Hālau Ola” in Hawaii, according to acting Interior assistant secretary Nikolao Pula. These centers help citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau.
A third grant for $63,249 will be used to strengthen organizations providing family services in Guam, and a fourth grant for $77,349 will support similar efforts in Springdale, Arkansas, which large communities of Marshallese migrants now call home.
“This is a pilot effort which we have supported to help the governments of Guam and Hawaii, in particular as they struggle with high costs related to serving FAS migrants and others,” said Pula. “We have partnered with local non-government organizations that have connections and leverage within their communities to strengthen Micronesian families and to help those who are disenfranchised find the information, services and opportunities which they need to thrive, to be successful, and ultimately to reduce their impact on government.”
A total of $217,095 will be provided to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Guam to strengthen the Micronesia Resource Center One Stop Shop’s effort to provide training for résumé building and job search, orientation assistance to new migrants, family support initiatives in parenting, financial literacy, health and wellness, youth mentoring, and domestic violence prevention.
Since opening in October 2015, MRCOSS has managed well over 1,000 cases and, through public outreach, has participated in community events, neighborhood gatherings, as well as canvassed door-to-door.
They have consulted with Guam government agencies and participated in numerous ad-hoc committees and groups tackling issues such as homelessness, safe neighborhoods, public safety and public health.
The MRCOSS, now in its third year of funding from OIA, will continue working on its goal to establish itself independently as its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Some $63,249 will be used to provide executive mentoring services to new and fledgling nonprofit organizations on Guam to improve delivery of services, financial management, board development, and volunteer management.
The primary groups participating in training to become high-performing organizations include Big Brothers Big Sisters of Guam, Alee Family Violence Shelter, Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, Victim Advocates Reaching Out, and others. These groups have been taking more active roles to address the increasing incidences on Guam of family-based social problems and to engage with Guam’s disenfranchised youth through outdoor sports, hikes, community gardening and related programs.
Education indicators from the 2010 Census show that 75.5 percent of Chamorro students in Guam complete high school compared to a 53.8 percent rate among Chuukese in Guam and 96.7 percent among white students. In 2014, the USDA reported that 70 percent of children enrolled in Guam schools received free or reduced lunch.
A total of $250,000 will be provided to Partners in Development Foundation in Hawaii to continue mentorship of the We are Oceania group as it helps to bridge gaps and to address challenges faced by the Micronesian communities in Hawaii, including homelessness, urgent medical needs, student truancy, lack of job readiness skills, increasing numbers of children in child welfare services, and increasing numbers of juvenile and adult incarcerations.
The We are Oceania group has been noted as unique for being the first program where Micronesians are serving and addressing the needs of their own people. Funds will help Micronesians transition successfully and flourish in Hawaii, while also reducing negative impressions of migrants and encouraging individuals to counsel and guide others from their homelands to achieve success.
Since the opening of We are Oceania Hālau Ola – One Stop Center in 2015, the group has been able to help more than 4,200 FAS nationals seeking assistance in the areas of health, education, employment, child welfare services, legal and public assistance, housing, social security, passport and I-94 replacement, guardianship, and taxes.
There has been an overwhelmingly positive response from the Micronesian community as well as the larger community in Hawaii and back home in the islands.
“We are grateful for the assistance that has been provided to assist Micronesians in Guam and Hawaii, where the impact is greatest,” said FSM ambassador to the U.S. Akillino Susaia. “Our citizens reside all over the United States, and we are proud of the contributions that they make in communities across America and especially in the U.S. military. We have been working closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to ensure that FSM citizens across the U.S. are able to obtain driver’s licenses and identification cards in a timely manner and in accordance with what is provided for under the Compact of Free Association.”
Under the Compacts of Free Association first approved in Public Law 99-239 (1986) and Public Law 99-658 (1994), and later amended in Public Law 108-188 (2003), citizens of the FSM, RMI, and Palau are legal nonimmigrants allowed, for indefinite periods of time, to live, work and study in the United States without need for a visa. They also serve in the U.S. military and currently serve in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces in large numbers that are disproportionate to the sizes of their populations.
The Compact agreements terminated the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, providing the U.S. with important strategic denial rights to the area in the western Pacific Ocean between Guam and Hawaii.
In 1996, under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, FAS citizens were deemed ineligible for federal public benefits. Thus began what has been a rising concern for Guam and Hawaii governments which have directly borne the cost of public services related to FAS migrants, also referred to as “Compact impact.”
A fourth grant in the amount of $77,349.78 is provided to the Marshallese Educational Initiative in Springdale, Arkansas to:
· Develop a series of seven educational videos to supplement the Marshallese Guide to Northwest Arkansas, which provides information on how to navigate financial systems, health services and higher education. The videos will cover additional topics such as opening bank accounts, purchasing a vehicle, and the pitfalls of high-interest rates and payday loan centers. The videos will be narrated in English and Marshallese with Marshallese actors and posted through social media where they can be available to Marshallese living in the U.S. and in the Marshall Islands.
· Develop a pilot curriculum that includes Marshallese history and culture materials that can be utilized in middle schools in the Springdale School District. This program will supplement an on-going mentorship program where Marshallese college students tutor younger students to build self-esteem and to inspire academic success as well as goals for higher education. The Springdale School District continues to lament a high dropout rate of their Marshallese students with only 50% of them graduating from high school, a rate far below the U.S. national average.
“The Marshall Islands government is thankful for the assistance from the Interior Department to support the Marshall community in Arkansas,” said RMI Ambassador to the U.S. Gerald M. Zackios. “Every year we see more and more of our people using the privileges of our unique, beneficial relationship with the United States to improve themselves and to strengthen the personal and business ties that unite them. I am proud of the resiliency that my fellow citizens display in navigating new lives as far away as Arkansas and trust that this grant will help enable them to be active and productive members of their communities and thereby ensure their further success.”
In a recent U.S. Census Bureau estimate using 2010-2014 data, there are approximately 41,380 citizens from the FSM, RMI and Palau living in the 50 states.
The five States with the highest number of FAS citizens are Hawaii (17,205), Arkansas (3,625), Washington (3,430), Oregon (2,580), and Texas (2,090).
These numbers do not incorporate the smaller number of American citizens who are of Micronesian, Marshallese, and Palauan ancestry. (DOI)