April 29, 2023

Congress Renews Agreements Supporting Marshallese Community

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack attended ACOM’s Marshallese Women’s Conference and spoke about his support for the compact treaty, CIFA Act and Care for COFA Veterans Act.

EngageNWA is excited to celebrate a significant victory alongside our Marshallese neighbors here in Northwest Arkansas. President Biden's signing of the Compact of Free Association (COFA) on March 8, 2024 marks a crucial turning point, allowing the Marshallese community to apply for essential benefits such as SNAP, SSI, TANF, and other federal benefits programs that they have been paying taxes for but unable to access since 1996.

COFA is a series of agreements between the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands that allow the U.S. to establish military posts and utilize resources, while providing security guarantees and economic assistance to COFA citizens. It also allow them to travel and work in the U.S. without immigration restrictions. The new agreement included the Compact Impact Fairness Act (CIFA), which restores federal benefits to members of COFA nations, and the COFA Veterans Act, which expands COFA veterans’ access to healthcare and more.

Previously, COFA citizens had access to federal benefits until 1996, when congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Responsibility Act of 1996, also known as welfare reform. The act was meant to ensure that only lawful immigrants were eligible for safety net programs, however, many lawful immigrants in the U.S. had their benefits revoked, including people coming from the Marshall Islands.

After 28 years of Marshallese individuals not able to access federal assistance programs while still paying taxes towards them, CIFA makes these benefits accessible again. It is a significant step toward recognizing the many contributions the Marshallese community has made for our country.

Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese (ACOM), located in Springdale, Arkansas, has and continues to play a pivotal role in restoring policy that positively impacts the Marshallese community. ACOM's mission is to empower the Marshallese community through culturally sensitive programs, education, leadership, policy advocacy, and holistic services. Their initiatives include a food pantry, community events, social services enrollment, rent assistance, tutoring and more. ACOM will continue to be on the ground, bringing awareness to this change in law and assisting with applications for federal benefits.

On Friday, May 24, 2204 ACOM will celebrate the renewed COFA Agreements and honor Mastercarver and Pastor Liton Beasa from 6-8pm at The Jones Center. The event is free but tickets are required.

EngageNWA is thrilled to have ACOM part of the Committee of Bridging and Belonging. We celebrate and uplift this incredible victory alongside them. Learn more about the new agreement and ACOM. Join us as we continue to celebrate and uplift one other so that we can all thrive and receive what is needed to live better lives.

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All photos courtesy of Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese