US Senate hears Gov Lolo's requests for federal assistance — in a written statement
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has shared with a Congressional committee, American Samoa’s “highest priorities for assistance from the federal government, which will address our many social, economic, and infrastructure challenges,” through a prepared 7-page statement submitted and made public by the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that convened a hearing on Tuesday on the state of US insular areas.
Lolo, who was unable to attend the hearing due to “health issues”, explained that the US Interior Department established its vision for the territories, underscoring the advancement of self-sufficiency and self-reliance objectives.
And this vision has guided American Samoa to become a contributive member of the American family, with hopes of becoming self-sufficient and self-reliant to the maximum extent practicable.
“Regrettably, this vision seems very elusive and misleading because, given certain realities and prevailing challenges, it is deemed implausible and unreachable,” he explained. “Notwithstanding, we have not, cannot, and will not, succumb to any perceived sense of desperation because the lives of our people are at stake.”
According to the governor, the territory is “making strides toward a more vibrant economy, better lives for our people, and much more self-sufficiency through transformation of our economy to industries like tourism; but such a transformation for a small island territory such as ours faces many challenges that only Congress can help us overcome.”
He appealed to the committee “to continue to work with us to remove as many obstacles as possible to our progress through policy and regulatory reforms that recognize the realities of our territory, its location and its economy.”
Lolo outlined several challenges and needs of American Samoa and sought Congressional help and support.
GITA DISASTER RELIEF
In seeking additional federal nutritional assistance funding, following Tropical Storm Gita last year, the governor revealed that those “hard hit” from the disaster were “our 2,600 farmers who lost 100% of their crops for an entire growing season.”
He explained that many of these farmers depend on their crops not only for their livelihood, but also to feed themselves and their families — numbering 15,600 in total — and the “need for nutritional assistance on American Samoa skyrocketed this year”.
The governor requested, and the federal government approved last year, $5 million in nutrition assistance for those impacted by Gita.
However, “the need is much greater than originally estimated,” Lolo said and recalled that he recently wrote to committee chairperson US Sen. Lisa Murkowski and other US senators to increase the total amount to $18 million.
He asked the committee for support for this “modest request, which would provide $139 per month in food assistance for each affected child, woman, and man through the remainder of this fiscal year.”
“Our infrastructure needs are numerous, which entail the repair of the existing assets and construction of new facilities,” he said, and requested financial support for current pressing needs. For example, he said a minimum of $5 million “is required” for the dredging of Faleasao and Ta’u wharves in Manu’a as they are too shallow to allow the MV Manu’atele to enter.
Additionally, a minimum of $5 million is needed to complete the new dock being designed and expected to be constructed — which will provide additional docking space for fishing and other vessels. He said this project would entice vessels to home port in the territory.
Furthermore, funding is needed to repair the 2,000-ton main hauling chain at the ASG shipyard. Lolo didn’t provide a specific amount of money needed for that project.
To promote the local tourism industry, “our airport terminal along with the construction of a Jet-Bridge is being planned,” said Lolo. “We are seeking assistance to help us improve our airport facilities to accommodate passengers as well as TSA and other operations.”
“In view of these significant land, sea, and air infrastructure needs, which will contribute to the improvement and diversification of our economy, we are hopeful that as part of your FY 2020 appropriations cycle — and should Congress consider a major national infrastructure and transportation bill — that you will address our infrastructure needs to the greatest extent possible,” he said.
MEDICAID & MEDICARE
ASG currently pays a 45% local fund match to access 55% of the Medicaid dollar spent on healthcare service. A Medicaid funding cap is placed on Medicaid funding availability to the territory, which is fortunate to be able to access Affordable Care Act (ACA) funds when the Medicaid Cap is reached, Lolo said.
However, the ACA fund allocation will lapse Sept. 30th and it appears that Congress will not extend the period of use for ACA funds when they lapse but instead, it will consider the establishment of Block Grants to support the healthcare needs of the territories, he pointed out.
“If this is the case, American Samoa hopes that a minimum of $30 million will be the amount of its block grant to minimally meet the healthcare needs of our people.”
Lolo expressed appreciation for inclusion of language in the recently enacted fiscal year 2019 Interior Appropriations Bill which directs the DOI Office of Insular Affairs to study and report to the Committee, within 90 days of enactment, the condition at LBJ, the estimated cost that would be required to replace the hospital building, estimated costs associated with modernizing the hospital, and estimates as to whether a renovated facility would have sufficient capacity to meet American Samoa’s needs.
After OIA submits its report to Congress, “we would like to work with this Committee and the Committee on Appropriations to formulate the best option for renovating or replacing the LBJ Medical Center and respectfully request the support of this Committee in providing necessary financial assistance to undertake the preferred option as soon as possible,” Lolo said.