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Sun Jul 11, 2021, 10:34 PM

Initiative Attempts to Restore Lost Benefits to U.S. Residents from the Freely Associated States

In 1996, U.S. residents from the Freely Associated States(FAS) suddenly had their Federal benefits taken away. Congress had just passed a landmark welfare overhaul bill, and the legislation incorrectly classified FAS residents as immigrants.

The status of FAS migrants became essentially the same as that of immigrants from any other sovereign nation for the purpose of qualifying for basic Federal resources, in spite of the special relationship their nations had with the United States.

There is nothing in the legislative history that indicates that bill drafters considered any of the unique qualities of a Freely Associated State. It is possible – even likely – that drafters didn’t even know what Freely Associated States are. Regardless of intent, however the results have been clear and long lasting: U.S. residents from Freely Associated States were no longer eligible for Medicaid, SNAP, Temporary Aid for Needy Families, Social Services Block Grants, Children’s Health Insurance Program, SSI, and Federal Benefits in general. The new law launched a new normal for FAS citizens in which they were not able to receive help with heating bills, job services, or medical care.

Benefits for residents of the U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico, who move to a state were left intact.

What’s a Freely Associated State?

Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau all live in Freely Associated States: independent nations that have a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the United States. They can live and work freely in the United States, and they pay taxes as other residents of states do, but they are not U.S. citizens and the U.S. can overrule local governments on all matters involving national security and defense.

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