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Amata outlines Am Samoa’s needs and priorities at IGIA Annual Meeting

The IGIA Annual Meeting in session yesterday
Waiver of local matching funds requirement is good news for the territories
Source: Uifa’atali Amata’a Washington D.C. office press release

Washington, DC — Governor Lemanu P.S. Mauga and Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata took part this week in the annual Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA) meeting where needs and priorities of the U.S. Territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands were discussed.

In a press release distributed to the media yesterday, Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata highlighted the announcement of the waiver of local matching requirements for all DOI grants to the territories.

“We've already had good news in relation to IGIA this year, as Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced that the Interior Department would be waiving local matching requirements for all DOI grants to the territories which, along with the White House's announcement that all other federal grants up to $200,000 would have local matches similarly waived, will help American Samoa tremendously,” said Amata. “Thank you to Secretary Haaland for recognizing how these matching funds impact a small territory’s financial well-being and staff time, and making a helpful change.”

 AMATA’S IGIA REMARKS

Thank you, Interior Secretary Haaland and Director Rodriguez, for hosting this year’s IGIA, and allowing me a few minutes to speak. The priority today is to hear from our territorial governors who have travelled thousands of miles to get here, so I’ll keep my comments brief.

I want to align myself with the priorities outlined by our governor, the Honorable Lemanu Mauga, and to emphasize a few key points to our friends in the Administration.

Even in the best of times, American Samoa’s economy is small and somewhat fragile, in the sense that it is anchored on one industry – fishing and canning.  While we are always looking to diversify, fishing is the main source of employment and commerce in the islands, and that isn’t likely to change soon, at least not rapidly. As such, we will continue to have long-term economic and geographic challenges.

The federal role in easing these challenges for my district will include an extension of the American Samoan Economic Development Credit. Ideally, for planning purposes, the Development Credit should be a multi-year plan with an eye towards making the credit permanent. Our Star-Kist Cannery relies on this credit to remain competitive in the region. With minimum wage set to increase soon, a failure to secure the tax credit or similar economic incentives is essentially an invitation for businesses to leave the territory.

An increase in minimum wages for our workers is essentially useless without any businesses and jobs to pay those wages. While I can’t speak directly for the other territorial representatives, I am sure they also have similar concerns about investment in the region and the challenges in keeping their economies going. We will need the Administration’s strong support for these ongoing efforts.

Another thing I invite the Administration to work with our local government and my office on, are the amendments considered during American Samoa’s recent Constitutional Convention.

Not only do I look forward to Interior’s help in passing the amendments our people voted on through the ratification process, but I invite the Administration to provide input for a long-term legislative solution to American Samoa’s efforts to exercise their right to self-determination. My predecessor, Eni Faleomavaega, briefly worked on legislation to that effect, and I hope to follow through on that work, this time with input from the Administration on developing a process for American Samoa to edit their constitution and local laws that is more in line with the way the other territories are handled, specifically, that they are not required to have congressional approval.

Finally, we need to foster a strong presence in the Pacific to guard against the growing influence of China in the region. Federal support for the area is no longer just about meeting our obligations to the local population. Rather, what we do going forward in the Pacific region will have long term consequences on the security of the entire country.

Thank you again to the Administration and to our territorial governors. We look forward to working with you and supporting the territories and the greater Pacific region in every way possible legislatively. Thank you.

(Read report on Governor Lemanu P.S. Mauga's remarks in tomorrow's issue.)