Early this morning, Chairman Raúl Grivalja’s committee, the Committee on Natural Resources, Office of Insular Affairs, held a full committee hearing relative to The President’s FY22 Budget Priority for the Territories: Medicaid, SSI and SNAP Parity.
I reflect on an opportunity I had in May to testify before Congress in support of House Resolution 279, which calls for the rejection of the Insular Cases that allowed the United States government to extend unilateral power over unincorporated territories. During my testimony, I urged Congress not to wait for the courts to undo the damage caused by the territorial incorporation doctrine. I joined my territorial colleagues in advocating for equal access to federal programs like Medicaid and SSI, which Congress can do through the use of their plenary powers.
But what really struck me during the congressional hearing was the interest of members of Congress and their desire to learn more about the challenges faced by millions of Americans in the territories. They admitted that their knowledge was lacking but they were willing to listen. And now they have the opportunity to follow with action.
Through President Biden's FY22 Budget Priority for the Territories: Medicaid, SSI, and SNAP Parity, the United States is finally taking the crucial first step toward granting residents of U.S. territories equal access to crucial federal programs, but I will be one of the first to acknowledge that more needs to be done to achieve true parity. We need more advocates like attorney Rodney Jacob, who represented the Schaller twins in their pursuit of justice in the application of Supplemental Security Income benefits. We must build on the partnerships we have with the Biden administration, as well as our territorial brothers and sisters in the Marianas, the Micronesian region and the broader Pacific, and our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean.
We must continue to push for parity in federal programs — we must not let it go to waste because we are too busy engaging in personal or partisan political battles. Just as we did with the WICHE program, where we got the leaders of Guam, CNMI, American Samoa, FSM, Palau the Marshall Islands, and the Department of the Interior together for a common goal of making higher education more accessible for our people – and succeeded – we must use the strategies that have been proven to work. With issues that are of paramount importance to Guam finally at the forefront and receiving the attention it deserves, we must come together and advocate for each other because we are stronger - together!
Tina Rose Muña Barnes is the vice speaker of the 36th Guam Legislature.