Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that on April 24, 2009 he sent a Letter to the Editor of the Washington Times in response to the paper’s article of the same date entitled, “States in need not first in line”, which implied that American Samoa did not deserve the amount of funding it is receiving from President Obama’s stimulus bill. Regrettably, the Washington Times chose not to make Faleomavaega’s response public, so Faleomavaega is releasing his statement to the media for purposes of setting the record straight. The full text of Faleomavaega’s letter is included below.
I am writing in response to “States in need not first in line”, an article published by your paper on Friday April 24 about President Obama’s stimulus bill. Stephen Dinan references the U.S. Territory of American Samoa, stating that “some of the places receiving the most money per capita are U.S. territories whose residents don’t pay federal income taxes: American Samoa’s $759 per resident is more than any other State or territory.”
For your information, unlike any other State or territory, American Samoa is a single industry economy, with more than 80% of its private sector economy dependent, either directly or indirectly, on the tuna and fishing processing industries. For more than 50 years, the tuna canneries operating in American Samoa, including StarKist and Chicken of the Sea, have paid Samoan workers well below the federal minimum wage rate and recently cut out their seven paid holidays and hourly employee pension benefits, having never provided Samoan workers with health care. All the while, their corporate executives have been paid millions in salaries and bonuses. Due to this kind of corporate greed which is a microcosm of what is now happening nationally, the tuna canneries in American Samoa are on the verge of economic collapse, with their only way out being to transfer production to low-wage countries.
A decrease or departure of one or both of our canneries, which employ more than 74% of the private sector workforce, will devastate our local economy causing widespread lay-offs and insurmountable financial difficulties. Due to scarcity of land, labor and capital, diversifying American Samoa’s economy is no simple solution considering that the United States Territory of American Samoa is 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii, covers a land area of 76 square miles, has a population of approximately 70,000, and average annual incomes of less than $10,000 a year.
So, next time, I would respectfully suggest that the Washington Times get it right before insinuating that American Samoa doesn’t deserve the assistance it gets or that residents of the U.S. Territories deserve less because they don’t pay federal income taxes. Americans who live in poverty don’t deserve less, especially when we make outsized sacrifices.
As USA Today reported in 2005 and again in 2009, “American Samoa leads the United States with an Iraq war death rate of 138.8 per 1-million population” partly because “impoverished young people from remote islands in the Pacific have for years flocked to the U.S. military in search of higher wages and better futures.”
American Samoa has a per capita enlistment rate in the U.S. military which is as high as any State or U.S. Territory. Our sons and daughters have served in record numbers in every U.S. military engagement from WWII to present operations in Afghanistan.
Like the other territories, residents of American Samoa do not pay federal income taxes because we don’t have full representation in the U.S. Congress.