President Biden’s Budget Doubles Down on Free Association Cohesion
The president’s budget proposes funding initiatives that accelerate climate action and defense investments in the Indo-Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
In early March, U.S. President Joe Biden released his budget for fiscal year (FY) 2024. Biden proposed $537 million in new funding to the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) in his $6.8 trillion budget.
In his announcement, Biden reiterated that economic growth should be from the middle and bottom upwards, not top to bottom. Elements of Biden’s budget focus on domestic investments, cutting taxes for working families, protecting and strengthening Medicare and social security, and new funding for U.S. territories and freely associated states.
Office of Interior Affairs FY 2024 Budget Proposal
OIA's proposed FY 2024 budget allocates $414 million in permanent funds and $122 million in current appropriations. It also suggests increases from the previous fiscal budget, which included $4 million for Capital Improvement Project (CIP) grants that supported crucial infrastructure needs in the territories. The proposal would allocate $900,000 for the Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources grant program to address additional conservation needs for all Insular Areas.
Last August, OIA announced $2.7 million to protect coral reefs and natural resources and defend ecosystems from invasive species. And earlier that year, OIA announced more than $27 million in CIP grant funding for priority needs in American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Continuing Compacts of Free Association
Biden administration favors continuing payments to support the Compacts of Free Association. The move could help Washington to maintain regional connections. Title Two of the Compacts of Free Association describes the financial assistance commitment by the United States to the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), with a first period of financial assistance from 1986 to 2003.
As the United States and freely associated states collaborate to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, U.S. officials said they’re committed to its long-standing alliances with the governments and people of the freely associated states.
The FY 2024 budget proposes a long-term solution to the economic effects of compact migrants living in the United States. Migrants eligible under Biden’s proposal could qualify for federal programs. However, Congress must review and approve the item.
Climate Action in the Defense Budget
On that note, Carmen G. Cantor, Assistant Secretary for Insular and Foreign Affairs, recently visited Hawai'i, Guam, and Saipan. Cantor previously served as U.S. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federated States of Micronesia.
During her tour, she had the opportunity to highlight U.S. investments and the significance of strategic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region.
“President Biden has proposed an important blueprint for our country’s future that reflects the importance of science, equity, and collaboration in carrying out the Department of the Interior’s important missions,” Cantor said. “The 2024 budget request makes critical, targeted investments in the American people and in the territories that will promote greater prosperity and economic growth for decades to come. For the insular areas, the budget will provide for investments in infrastructure, energy resiliency, and security, and promote racial justice and equity in underserved communities allowing Interior to fulfill its responsibilities in the Pacific and the Caribbean.”
Cantor announced $15.8 million to help cover costs for services offered to residents of the freely affiliated states now residing in Hawaii. Later, in Saipan, she announced a $6.5 million award to develop a new facility for Guam's Department of Public Health and Social Services Division of Environmental Health.
Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Capabilities
On the other hand, President Biden has proposed increasing the nation’s defense expenditure. The defense budget would include $37.7 billion for modernizing US nuclear capabilities and $9.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative to increase Washington's regional competitiveness against an emboldened Beijing.
After Pentagon officials shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon in American airspace weeks ago, Biden’s defense budget could be a response to heightened tensions between the two nations.
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