FAS bill gets backing •Revenue fall makes hosting FAS citizens more costly

Posted on Mar 12 1999

Thousands of citizens from the Freely Associated States eat up a huge chunk of the government medical assistance program and incur millions of dollars in expenditures from public schools in the Northern Marianas amid shrinking financial grants from Washington, officials said.

The situation has been compounded by continuous plunge in government revenues that has forced drastic cost-cutting measures implemented by the Tenorio administration over the past few months to meet its various financial obligations.

This is the contention of the Department of Public Health and the Public School System which have joined other government agencies to express support on a proposed legislation seeking to restrict the stay of Micronesians on the island ahead of a scheduled public hearing on Monday.

“We support the concept of this bill… as it may over time reduce the number of non-U.S. citizen students migrating to the CNMI and attending our public schools,” said Rita H. Inos, commissioner of Education.

Citing official report, she pointed out more than $4.6 million each year is spent by the island government for FAS citizens attending public schools here, while some $12.7 million is needed to build infrastructure for these students.

Inos also prodded Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio to secure reimbursement from the federal government to help offset some of the expenditures, saying the move may help address the problem.

The island government must reevaluate the effects of the Compact of Free Association on local resources and infrastructure in view of Washington’s failure to reimburse CNMI of its costs, according to DPH Sec. Joseph Kevin Villagomez.

The agreement, forged in 1986 between the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshalls and Palau, has allowed open migration for their citizens into any American soil.

But the CNMI, Guam and Hawaii have complained of their impact on their resources as Washington has reneged on its promise to mitigate the costs of hosting thousands of these islanders.

Health care impact
“(T)he impact on health care from citizens of the FAS are quite visible,” Villagomez said in a letter to Rep. Melvin Faisao, author of House Bill 11-294, in response to the proposal to limit their stay on habitual residents who are either employed or attending school full-time.

A total of 1,206 FAS citizens are enrolled in a medical assistance program under the jointly-funded Medicaid, whose resources come from both the CNMI and Washington, out of about 6,045 individuals on the island.

During the previous fiscal year alone, the program spent $3.6 million, of which more than $730,000 went to FAS nationals.

In 1998, Micronesians only represent eight percent of the overall CNMI population, but they comprise over 20 percent of the Medicaid recipient pool and consume about 21 percent of its funds, the top DPH official said.

Diseases rates for Diabetes and Tuberculosis among the FAS residents here are some of the highest rates in the nation, draining further funds of the Division of Public Health given by federal officials, which dropped to $1.21 million last year.

Furthermore, there has been a sudden leap in HIV or AIDS cases among the FAS population, several of whom are being treated in the CNMI with anti-retroviral medication at a cost of nearly $1,500 a month per patient.

The expenditures for all these services will continue to shot up in the next few years and the CNMI does not expect additional financial aid from Washington, Villagomez pointed out.

Although he cautioned the legislature against ruffling feathers in tackling this “sensitive issue,” the public health secretary said, “sooner or later… someone needs to be responsible for the effects that FAS citizens have in our dwindling resources and communities.”

HB 11-294 is the first attempt of the CNMI to tackle mounting problems triggered by the influx of FAS citizens, who take up residency to work and study, coming on the heels of stricter federal regulations to be imposed against the open-migration policy.

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