March 30, 2022

Hirono Questions Deputy Assistant Secretaries on US Support of COFA Nations and Citizens

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) questioned Dr. Siddharth Mohandas, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, Mark Lambert, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Keone Nakoa, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Interior for Insular and International Affairs about the status of the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) and citizens of the Freely Associated States (FAS) residing in the United States.

In her questioning, Senator Hirono asked three witnesses whether the Biden administration supports formally apologizing to the people and government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands for the damages caused by the United States’ nuclear testing program. Earlier this month, Senator Hirono introduced a resolution recognizing and formally apologizing for our country’s shameful history of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands.

Senator Hirono also asked the witnesses whether the Administration supports reinstating federal benefits for FAS citizens residing in the U.S., which were eliminated in the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. In May 2021, Hirono introduced legislation to reinstate these benefits, which are already available to other legal resident non-citizens present in the United States.

Links to download video of the exchanges are available here and here.

Currently, the U.S. is negotiating to extend the Compacts of Free Association with all three Freely Associated States - the Republics of the Marshall Islands and Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia. These agreements give the U.S. control over an area of the Pacific Ocean, stretching from Hawaii to the Philippines, in exchange for modest economic assistance and access to certain federal programs. Economic assistance and eligibility for certain federal programs in-country are set to expire in 2023 for the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, and in 2024 for Palau.