December 22, 2020

Washington, D.C.— the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), issued the following statement on the passage of the coronavirus relief bill that includes Medicaid access for Pacific Islanders, specifically for the Compact of Free Association (COFA) community.

We applaud Congress for passing a bill that includes Medicaid eligibility for an estimated 100,000 citizens of the Freely Associated States—the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau who live in the United States and its territories. This is a historic decision that would fix a drafting mistake from the 1996 welfare reform bill that excluded health care for the COFA community. 

We commend congressional members such as Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Representative Tony Cardenas (D-CA), for the work they have done to uplift this issue during this Congress. NCAPA members such as the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO), Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC), and countless community leaders and organizations like the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese, have advocated on this priority for many years, and now we are finally seeing the fruition of their labor. 

It has taken a pandemic to realize the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the COFA community, as Pacific Islanders have some of the highest disproportionate rates in the country. After nearly nine months without federal relief, we recognize that this bill does not fully address the depth of suffering for millions who have faced the brunt of the pandemic without adequate support. Now is the time for our leaders to act to provide the equitable access that is needed to heal our nation. We call on President Trump to sign this bill into law in order to help correct a long overdue mistake and allow Medicaid access for COFA families. 

Jeffrey B. Caballero, Executive Director of the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO), said: 

“Restoration for COFA Medicaid eligibility for Pacific Islanders from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau residing in the U.S. is a momentous occasion. Words cannot fully express our gratitude and appreciation to the COFA leaders and advocates working tirelessly for years to provide health care that COFA citizens need and deserve. AAPCHO commends Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Congressman Tony Cardenas (D-CA) and Steve Womack (R-AR) for their leadership and applauds Congress for resolving this injustice and restoring a fundamental right to those who need it most.”

Melisa Laelan, Executive Director of Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese (ACOM), said: 

“This is a historical moment for all COFA citizens living in the United States. For over 25 years, we have suffered because of health inequity. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the gruesome health injustices that we COFA communities recognized, but the rest of the world ignored. Today we find peace and comfort in knowing that one of our fundamental human rights will finally be restored. Our COFA communities worked tirelessly for over six years to ensure that our stories are not forgotten. Today is a powerful testament to the strength of our stories, and to our peoples’ resilience.”

Tavae Samuelu, Executive Director of Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC), said: 

“Medicaid restoration has been a decades long fight, one that began at the moment of exclusion. I’m grateful to the COFA leaders who’ve been some of the most impacted by COVID-19 and continue to be at the helm of caring for our communities.”

Juliet K. Choi, Chief Executive Officer of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), said: 

“Thanks to the tireless efforts of community leaders and Congressional champions, this glaring inequity that has locked out COFA communities from critical health care for nearly 25 years has been fixed. We are relieved that both chambers of Congress rectified a great injustice against Pacific Islanders by passing a relief bill that allowed COFA communities to access Medicaid again. Ensuring the restoration of Medicaid to COFA communities has been a top legislative priority for APIAHF over the years, and we will continue to advocate for healthcare for all immigrant families.” 


Based in Washington, D.C., the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans is a coalition of 37 national Asian Pacific American organizations that serves to represent the interests of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and to provide a national voice for our communities’ concerns. Our communities are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the United States, currently making up approximately six percent of the population.