American Samoa’s Amata puts focus on hospital and other key issues in IGIA Remarks
American Samoa Delegate Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R) highlighted several needs during a recent speech to the Interagency Group on Insular Affairs in Washington, DC. She emphasized the need for a modernized hospital, along with pandemic-caused concerns, including visa overstayers, obstacles for Army recruits, and the Census numbers which were compiled while up to 2,000 residents were away. She also expressed her appreciation for the priorities expressed by Governor Lemanu Mauga (D) to the IGIA.
Also testifying was United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation Charles Small, who discussed upcoming funding, including ports projects, with the possibility of an announcement this month, and testified that American Samoa will receive $7.1 million in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act highway funds over 5 years. This is a 71% increase from the prior formula, directly due to the territorial representatives’ successful amendment to that funding formula. Delegate Amata was an original cosponsor of that change by amendment resulting in more funding.
“The Transportation bill directs a myriad of programs, which are currently going through the rule-making and regulatory review process, followed by the distribution of formula funds and information on competitive grant applications in the months ahead,” Amata said. “American Samoa is automatically included in some, while some are competitive and there is technical assistance at federal agencies and DOI/OIA to assist with these grant applications. I look forward to working with Governor Lemanu and the administration in DC to fully utilize these funding programs for our people.”
Amata’s remarks in full
I want to first thank the administration for its recently issued rule from the Treasury Department that will allow the territories to use American Rescue Plan funds for hospital infrastructure. This will help renovate our LBJ hospital which the Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department have already justified in its report to Congress for the need of a replacement.
I am also hopeful that the additional $1 billion in hospital funding passed by the House will be included in any revised Build Back Better plan. And to further our hospital replacement, I hope the administration supports increased funding in the DOI/OIA American Samoan government account for FY2023 which specifically supports hospital infrastructure.
Letter to DHS Secretary Mayorkas
An important issue facing the people of American Samoa is the unintended consequences of quarantine. I wrote DHS Secretary Mayorkas and waiting reply, informing him we have many residents and family members who were stranded on the mainland during the Pandemic and overstayed their VISAS putting their future ability to travel at risk due to circumstances beyond their control.
Guidance for these individuals was slow to roll out, and even if they submitted extension applications and left on the earliest available return flight, I’ve been informed that they may still be treated as criminal overstayers so I hope IGIA members can work with us to address this.
Letter to Commerce Secretary Raimondo
Also, in my November letter to Secretary Raimondo I informed her that our local Department of Legal Affairs/Immigration team confirmed approximately 2,000 American Samoa residents were stranded outside of the territory in 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
As you know American Samoa’s population was reported 49,710, representing a decrease of 10.5% from the 2010 Census population of 55,519.
As a representative from a district heavily reliant on population-based funding programs, I want to confirm that every person was accounted for and ask for further review of this matter.
And more recently, we’ve had trouble sending out our latest batch of Army Recruits due to the inability to bring in personnel to process their medical and aptitude tests so we want to work with DOD to facilitate these processes.
I commend the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill and the IGIA focus on I, and I want to close and thank Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen again for the options opened up to American Samoa under this new rule, and I want to congratulate Governor Lemanu P.S. Mauga and Lt. Gov. Talauega E.V. Ale on their leadership during the pandemic, keeping us all safe.
Fa’afetai tele lava, thank you, and I look forward to working with you all.