US Congress backs FAS

SEG funding for the RMI and FSM, which US senators want included in the US Senate’s FY2022 budget, is used for numerous education programs here, including support for school lunch program, college scholarships and other programs. Pictured: An assembly at Marshall Islands High School, the country’s largest public high school. Photo: Wilmer Joel.

Four US Senators called on the Senate’s Appropriations Committee chairman to include over $23 million in the upcoming fiscal year budget for the RMI’s and FSM’s Supplemental Education Grants (SEG).

The appeal was made earlier this month to Appropriations Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy by Hawaii Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, and Senators Christopher Coons (Delaware) and Martin Heinrich (New Mexico).

The House draft budget includes the funding, but not the Senate version. “We must live up to our promise to ensure that the freely associated states (FAS) can improve the lives of their peoples in the islands, and we must ensure that our relationships with the FAS remain strong,” said the four senators. “Not doing so has already raised questions in the island about the US fulfillment of its commitments under the Compact of Free Association Amendments Act of 2003.”

The pointed out that the Compact authorizes $18.33 per year for the SEG — $12.23 million for the FSM and $6.1 million for the RMI. Since FY2005, the US Department of Education “has not included an amount adjusted for inflation and actually proposed less than the agreed upon base amounts.” In addition, the department’s FY2022 budget request doesn’t include the required $3.364 million increase to reflect the adjusted amount as required under the Compact.

This latter amount “is equal to about three percent of the RMI’s total spending on education,” they said, adding that the SEG money supports the school lunch program, school accreditation work, college scholarships and other important work.

The senators commented: “Our country has no closer relationships with any other nation.” The FAS “let us deny other nations access to their vast waters and air space,” they said. In addition the RMI hosts what the Joints Chiefs of Staff have called “the world’s premier range and test site for intercontinental ballistic missiles and space operations support.”
Meantime, China “is aggressively trying to shirt the RMI’s allegiance through ‘carrot and stick’ tactics.” They ended their letter by saying the Congress must “ensure American’s relationship with them (FAS) remains strong into the future.”

In other recent US Congressional developments related to the Marshall Islands and the FAS:
Combat veteran and US Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) called on President Joe Biden to revive the stalled Compact negotiations with the freely associated states.
In a letter last month with five other Democratic senators, Duckworth stressed that extending the agreements with these three island nations can help benefit American security and economic interests in the critical Indo-Pacific region.

US Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) also signed this letter.

“We write today about a critical topic for our security and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific — the status of renegotiations for our Compacts of Free Association (COFA) with the Republics of the Marshall Islands and Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia,” the senators wrote. “We respectfully request that you swiftly appoint a lead envoy with the authority to conduct whole of government negotiations and extend our associations with these three sovereign nations that were once parts of a territory administered by the United States.”

“Allies and partners are the cornerstone of our asymmetric advantage,” the senators continued. “We should continue all federal programs in the islands and ensure that the FAS has funding for services and development in the amounts equivalent to present levels or, as warranted, higher than that for as long as we enjoy the exceptional strategic powers they enable us exercise.”

The six senators underlined a point made repeatedly by Congressional leaders over the past year. “We must resolve unsettled issues from our government testing nuclear bombs and storing radioactive waste in the Marshall Islands while the United States administered those islands as a trustee,” the senators said.

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