Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Medical Care for Our Marshallese Neighbors

Northwest Arkansas is home to the largest concentration of Marshallese in the world outside the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Hawaii, with an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 living here, of whom 867 are children enrolled in the Springdale School District.

Between 1946 and 1958 the United States detonated 67 thermonuclear atomic weapons in the Marshall Islands, including a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb in 1954 that was some 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now
the Marshallese are among the unhealthiest people in the world, yet the large population living and working in Northwest Arkansas is ineligible for most federally-funded health care programs, because they are not citizens although they are here legally under the treaty terms of the Compact of Free Association that says we are sorry.

Congress appropriates $30 million annually in “compact impact” aid to Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands to reimburse for the cost of services provided to displaced Marshallese and other Micronesian people.
Arkansas gets none of that money, though it has the highest population of Marshallese in the continental United States. Zip. Nada. Nothing.

At a meeting of the state Senate and House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees yesterday, local residents discussed the health problems of the Marshallese and the need for adequate health care programs. State Senator
Bill Pritchard (R-Elkins) and other local legislators promised to contact Congressman John Boozman (R-AR3) to find out why he had been unable to secure any federal funding for these residents and ask him to make sure that Arkansas starts getting its fair share of federal health care funding. It's about time.

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