Press Release: COFA Alliance National Network of Washington

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                 March 10, 2020

Washington Legislature advances Substitute Senate Joint Memorial (SSJM) 8017 on Compact of Free Association (COFA) to United States President Donald J. Trump; Vice President Michael R. Pence; President Pro Tempore Sen. Chuck Grassley; Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell; Democratic Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer; Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi; Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer; Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy

Olympia, Wash. –On February 27, 2020, Sen. Bob Hasegawa and the community members from the COFA Nations set out to further educate Washingtonians about the nuclear legacy of the Marshall Islands and the beauty of the people’s culture that embodies resilience.  This day would turn out to be an historic moment as the communities and friends from the Marshall Islands, along with the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, gathered for their first COFA Legislative Day in Washington.  They filled both sides of the Senate Gallery and sang in the Marshallese language a beautiful song expressing the strengths people take from their connections to their culture and islands  You can watch the video of this moment unfold during the adoption of the “67 Nuclear Testing in the Marshall Islands” Senate Resolution 8701 led by Sen. Bob Hasegawa on the following link:

On March 6, 2020, Honorable Speaker Laurie Jinkins of Washington State House of Representatives banged her gavel to declare the passage of SSJM 8017.  This was the final step for SSJM 8017 to become the first COFA Memorial by the Washington State Legislators to the United States Presidents, Senate and Congressional Leadership. The final House floor debate on SSJM 8017 is available at the following link: https://www.tvw.org/watch/?clientID=9375922947&eventID=2020031020&startStreamAt=4653&stopStreamAt=4858&autoStartStream=true

Since 2018, the Washington State Legislature has now passed three pieces of legislation for the COFA people who have travelled long distances to consider Washington as their new home. This group of people have a unique treaty with the United States called Compact of Free Association (COFA). The COFA treaty allows people from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau, to “freely” enter in the United States without visas or green cards, and they can stay to live as long as they choose.  They join the US military, pay taxes, attend schools, and work at many different jobs (often in the hard labor food processing industry such as Tyson).  In return, the United States controls the air, water, and land for national defense and security.  To this day, the United States uses Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands for the Ronald Reagan Missile Ballistic and Military Base to test US missile defense systems

SSJM 8107 was passed with unanimous support among both legislative bodies. David Anitok, CANN Co-Founder and Coordinator, said “that much credit must be given to its Chief Sponsor Honorable Senator Bob Hasegawa, as well as Co-Sponsors Honorable Senators Sam Hunt, Andy Billig, Rebecca Seldaña, Derek Standford, and Claire Wilson.  We want to also thank the House of Representative Leadership and the overwhelming bi-partisan support.”  Rep. Paul Harris emphasized that, “these are great individuals who have been dealt a pretty tough hand…I just hope that we can support this and give these people another helping hand.”  Many legislators mentioned that this memorial was the right thing to do and is long overdue.  One of the goals of this memorial is for the federal government to make amends by restoring healthcare and other welfare benefits under the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, not only in Washington State, but nationwide.  Please click the following link to review the entire text of the SSJM 8017 and learn more about it.

Jon Gould, a former deputy director of Children’s Alliance and volunteer advisory board member of the CANN-WA said this about the passage of Senate Joint Memorial 8017, “Washington’s COFA communities are putting their stamp on the public policies of our state, first with COFA medical and dental coverage and now in 2020 with a strong and timely message to the federal government.” 

Jiji Jally, a longtime resident of Washington and Community Builder for CANN-WA, said during the hearing of SJM 8017, “this memorial will not only ask the federal government to remedy the unfair denial of Medicaid and other welfare benefits…it also calls on federal lawmakers to act to ensure our people are fairly and adequately counted in the 2020 census.”

Dr. Holly Barker, Commissioner of the Marshall Islands National Nuclear Commission and volunteer advisory board member of CANN-WA has this to say about the Senate Resolution 8701, “This Senate Resolution is an important building block to educate the people of Washington State about the connections between the plutonium processed at Hanford (WA) and the RMI, as well as the important contemporary role Washington State can play in helping the Marshallese people gain access to Washington’s world-class cancer care facilities.”

In Washington State there is a new emerging organization called COFA Alliance National Network of Washington, or CANN-WA, that is mostly volunteered and led by community leaders like Jiji Jally, Driskell Jack, Rick Kabua, Juanita Yasu, Rachael Tamngin, David Anitok, Jon Gould, Katie Diamond, and Dr. Holly Barker. CANN-WA is fiscally sponsored by White Center Community Development Association under the leadership of Executive Director Sili Savusa. CANN-WA is grateful for the general support grant from Group Health Foundation and several other local organizations who assist, including;  Children’s AllianceWashington Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, Pacific Islander Health Board, Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of Washington, Washington Physician For Social Responsibility, Asia Pacific Cultural Center, and Northwest Refugee and Immigrant.  CANN-WA is participating also in the federal level through H.R. 4821 and with the leadership of Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum to restore Medicaid for all Freely Associated States families throughout the United States.

Contact: David Anitok, (503) 428-2611, danitok@cann.us

Link to SSJM 8017 History: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=8017&Year=2019&Initiative=false

Link to SR 8701 History: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=8701&Initiative=false&Year=2019

Sign-On to Support COFA Act Medicaid Restoration

Hello,
My name is Sheldon Riklon and I’m a Marshallese doctor that serves my community in Arkansas. On behalf of Micronesian, Marshallese and Palauan community leaders from across the country, and in partnership with the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), I’m excited to engage with you on a historic bill to expand health care access.
In 1996, citizens from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesian, and the Republic of Palau, who live and work in the United States under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA), were mistakenly stripped of Medicaid coverage through the welfare reform act.  Medicaid access for COFA communities is critically important, because U.S. military presence in COFA nations has had adverse effects on our communities’ health, resulting in high rates of cancer, diabetes, and other health complications.
Earlier this fall, the House introduced bipartisan legislation that would restore access to Medicaid for COFA citizens, building on a Senate bill introduced earlier this year. We need to act on this momentum.
Please join me in signing-on your organization’s name to this letter and let Congress know that you support the COFA Act and COFA citizens’ access to health care.
Deadline to sign-on is Thursday, November 14th 5pm PST. 
Thank you for advocating for our communities, and for continuing to fight for health care access for all.
In community,
Dr. Sheldon Riklon