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Fairness of the Restoration of Benefits

Arkansas is home to thousands of Marshallese residents who were encouraged to migrate to the United States following 12 years of destructive nuclear weapons tests that devastated Marshallese bodies and severed cultural ties with Marshallese lands rendered unsafe for habitation. The Compact Impact Fairness Act will help ensure that our community, who pays taxes and contributes to the nation's rich cultural fabric, will see the restoration of benefits.


The Compact of Free Association, signed in 1986 and up for renewal this year by the US and Marshall Islands governments, allows the US to have a military presence in the Pacific, a priority for US national security. The Compact was meant to address grievous harms from nuclear testing, like radiation contamination, elevated rates of cancer, and loss of lands and culture. Benefits promised to Marshallese residents in 1986, were removed, inadvertently, by legislative changes in the 1990s.


We are grateful to Rep. Womack, Sen. Boozman and Sen. Hirono for working to restore these benefits.


Press release from Rep. Womack's office, Washington, DC, 3/14/23 (excerpt):

"Congressman Steve Womack (AR-3) and U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) are leading bipartisan, bicameral legislation along with Congressman Ed Case (HI-1) and U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) to restore access to a range of federal benefits for citizens of the Freely Associated States of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau who reside in the United States.

Under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) —national security agreements critical to safeguarding American interests in the Indo-Pacific region— citizens of the Freely Associated States are entitled to live, study, and work in the United States without a visa and access certain public benefits. However, the 1996 welfare reform law prevented COFA citizens from accessing most federal benefits available to other legal resident non-citizens present in the United States. If enacted, this legislation would restore access to these benefits for COFA citizens and assist states, like Arkansas, that have traditionally stepped in to provide assistance to the COFA community in the absence of federal aid.

Congressman Womack said, “Marshallese families are an integral part of Arkansas. Across the nation, COFA citizens support U.S. defense efforts, pay taxes, and are core elements of our economy and communities. It has long been a priority of mine to address the host of unintended barriers these lawful residents face under the law. This legislation is important to that mission. By instituting another technical fix, we are restoring access to the care and services they are entitled to and upholding our commitments to critical security partners.”

Senator Boozman said, “Arkansas is home to thousands of Marshallese citizens who have contributed to Natural State communities. Since 1996, COFA citizens have paid taxes as lawful permanent residents without receiving the benefits they are entitled to under this agreement. The Compact Impact Fairness Act would remove technical barriers to better serve their needs, all while maintaining our commitment to these lawful residents as a key component of U.S. national security efforts in the Pacific.”



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