As more islanders from the Freely Associated States (FAS) settle in the United States through visa-free terms of the Compact with Washington, island communities are becoming increasingly active with state legislatures seeking recognition and engagement.
In the mid-1990s, the US Congress eliminated eligibility of Marshall Islanders, Micronesians and Palauans for federal Medicaid health insurance, and in the 2000s the Congress, through an omission in legislation, prevented islanders from obtaining regular state driver’s license ID, even though they are legally residing in the US.
The Oregon state legislature was the first to address both, passing legislation to allow islanders to get full eight-year driver’s licenses, and adopting health care insurance legislation earlier this year specifically to cover citizens of the Freely Associated States living in Oregon.
Lobbying has now moved to the Oklahoma state legislature, where last month Republican State Senator Patrick Anderson hosted a “Micronesia Day” at the legislature and islanders resident in Oklahoma, along with friends from other states, joined for a day that included island music and singing, and education around health and other needs of these communities.
A local paper estimated there are as many as 4,000 islanders in Enid, Oklahoma, and hundreds more elsewhere in the state. Oklahoma-based islanders hope they can have the same success as Oregon-resident islanders have shown the past several years with their state legislature.
Anderson said they wanted to raise awareness about the health care and driver’s license issues.
“Because of the status the Micronesian community has, they are given temporary licenses,” he told the Enid News. “That can cause employers confusion and concern about what that really means. They’re not restricted in any manner, but because they’re not U.S. citizens, they’re not allowed a regular driver’s license.” Under federal law, members of the Micronesian community can work and pay taxes, but they don’t have access to federal funding in the Medicaid system, Anderson said. “That certainly causes a problem for reimbursement for local hospitals,” he said.
Loyd Henion, Oregon lobbyist for the COFA Alliance National Network, said the Oregon Legislature unanimously voted to change the state law to allow members of the Micronesian community to get eight-year licenses, and passed legislation to allow the community to access federal health care dollars in a “Medicaid Light” program.
The program is funded with $9 of federal money for every $1 of state money, Henion said, and enrollment begins in November. Anderson said he hopes Oklahoma will pass similar legislation.
Read more about this in the June 3, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.