Amata defends American Samoa’s funding needs in Insular Budget
Washington, D.C. — Congresswoman Aumua Amata strongly defended American Samoa’s federal funding needs on Tuesday, questioning the Interior Department’s 2019 reduced budget request for insular operations funding in the territory, and instead suggested an offsetting increase that includes recognition of Cyclone Gita’s impact.
“While a state can find ways to absorb a $1.2 million loss, that would be a tremendous amount for our local government to absorb,” said Aumua Amata. “Due to economic and geographic isolation, American Samoa is the most economically challenged state or territory in the nation. The Department of the Interior supplements funding for local government operations, because these needs are essential, and they include the only community college on the island, the judiciary, the department of education, and the only hospital in the territory.”
Congresswoman Amata gave a statement in Tuesday’s budget oversight hearing of the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, in which Assistant United States Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas Doug Domenech testified.
The Department’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget proposal included a suggested $1.2 million cut to the American Samoa Operations Grants Account; however, the Appropriations Committee in the House instead approved a $250,000 increase for the year. Once again, the FY 2019 proposal has a similar suggested cut, leaving it to Congress to protect necessary funding.
The hearing was titled, Policy Priorities for the Administration’s FY 2019 Budget for Indian Affairs and Insular Areas.
“I understand the need for austerity measures, but they simply cannot come on the backs of the most economically challenged people in our nation,” continued Amata. “A better way to continue promoting self-sufficiency on the island and restore economic progress would be to rapidly implement the Department’s recommendation to restore fishing access to some of the waters of our Marine Monument.”
“As I’m sure you are aware, the President declared a Major Disaster in American Samoa due to Cyclone Gita,” concluded Amata.
“While direct funding for disaster relief is an important part of any recovery process, I have also been pushing for alternative funding measures that help our local government reinvest in the territory and provide more stability over the long term.
“In addition to fishing access, these suggestions include an increase of $400,000 to the operations account, along with consideration that the territory be granted parity under Medicaid and temporary fee-match waivers so American Samoa can more readily draw down funds that already exist,” she said.