Wednesday, April 13, 2011

LEJ Supports HR 38

LEJ strongly supports H.R. 38 HD 1. Here are some important facts about COFA and the state's attempt to illegally severely restrict critical health care services to low income members of the COFA community.

1. Why do the COFA residents have a right to receive government benefits at all?
COFA residents make positive contributions to the economy and receive very few government benefits. COFA residents are legally eligible to work in the United States and required to pay state and federal taxes. COFA states account for the highest per-capita number of military recruits than any other U.S. state or territory. Despite paying taxes, unlike all other immigrants and U.S. citizens, COFA residents are never able to establish residency and receive Federal government means-tested benefits. Refugees, victims of domestic violence, trafficking victims, those whose deportation is withheld, immigrant victims of crime, and asylum seekers are all eligible to receive these benefits, but COFA residents are not.

2. Don't COFA residents place an unfair financial burden on Hawai'i?
The State of Hawai' i received $10,571,000 million for fiscal year 2009 and $11,229,000 for fiscal year 2010 in Compact Impact funds from the federal government to help pay for services to COFA residents living in our state. Other states, such as Washington and Arkansas have sizable COFA populations. They not only provide comprehensive health benefits, but also provide food stamps and other state funded assistance to the COFA population without receiving any Compact Impact funds.

3. Why should the State pay for coverage for COFA residents in tough economic times?
Spending on COFA residents represents a very small expenditure in our state budget and a wise investment. Cutting $13 million in essential health care spending toward primary and preventative health care for our COFA population eliminates less that than .0184% of the State's $1.3 billion deficit. Additionally, it is not a wise investment. It eliminates spending on the front end while increasing overall spending for health care by ensuring that emergency service costs are significantly increased and emergency rooms overloaded. In addition, the COFA population suffers disproportionately with serious health problems, many linked to past and ongoing US occupation and nuclear weapons testing in their home countries.

4. But weren't the services offered by Basic Health Hawaii (BHH) sufficient to maintain a person's health.
BHH provided very limited health care coverage not adequate for disabled or seriously ill persons. Some patients must use the allotted doctor visits simply to get diagnosed. Most disabled individuals often need to visit the doctor more frequently, may need more than four prescription medications, and need access to medical devices. From a public health perspective, cutting access to health care from a newly arrived population is not a wise management decision to make sure serious illnesses and diseases are diagnosed and treated.

5. Keeping COFA residents healthy promotes health for all, and a healthier Hawai'i.
Cutting access from a marginalized immigrant population is a shortsighted plan that does not address the real problem and will not contribute to the health and well being of all state residents. The ability to access health services ensures that communicable diseases and illnesses are diagnosed, treated, and managed. When a marginalized population is systemically denied access, chronic conditions are left to fester until they become emergency issues.

6. Why does the U.S. have this special relationship with these countries?
The three COFA countries were formerly part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Under the COFA treaties, the U.S. exercises strategic control of over half a million square miles of the Pacific between Hawai'i and Guam. The United States conducted nuclear testing in the Pacific for many years. The U.S. Eniwetok and Bikini were used as nuclear testing grounds, setting off 67 open-air atomic and hydrogen bomb blasts that equaled 1.7 Hiroshima-sized bombs every morning for 12 years. Because of nuclear fallout and militarization, residents were forced to relocate. Diets changed, as traditional agriculture could not longer be supported on lands rendered unusable from nuclear fallout or military operations. With no other economic means for support, the United States military recruits more members from COFA states than from any other state or territory to serve overseas in our military endeavors. The treaty allows COFA residents to live and legally work in the U.S.

7. Isn't this a Federal Problem?
This is a Hawai'i issue and local problem. Other states provide services for the COFA population without receiving any Compact Impact Funds. It is only in Hawai'i that we have targeted the Micronesian immigrant population as responsible for the budget deficit.

8. Wasn't there already a lawsuit about all of this?
COFA residents and LEJ have been fighting these cuts for two years. Most recently, in November 2010, Federal Court Judge Michael Seabright found that State had violated the 14th amendment in specifically targeting COFA residents for cuts to medical services, and issued a preliminary injunction reinstating benefits for COFA residents by January 2011. The state is now appealing this ruling.

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