Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) will release its report this Thursday, April 8, 2010 on the impact of minimum wage increases in both American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
The report is a result of language that was included at Faleomavaega's request in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 that was signed by President Obama on February 17, 2009.
"I thank Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Chairman David Obey of the House Appropriations Committee, Chairman George Miller of the House Committee on Education and Labor, the late Senator Edward Kennedy who served as Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, and Senator Jeff Bingaman, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, for their support in making sure language was included requiring the GAO to conduct a study on the past, present and future impact of minimum wage increases in American Samoa and CNMI," Faleomavaega said.
The law also included a provision to postpone the next scheduled minimum wage increase to September 2010 in order to give Congress time to act, pending the outcome of the GAO report. In accordance with current law, employees in American Samoa are scheduled to reach the federal minimum wage by 2016 while those in CNMI will reach it by 2015.
The GAO reviewed the impact these increases would have on both Territories and its new report is based on information collected from surveys, interviews, and meetings held by GAO in American Samoa. Data was also provided by the American Samoa Government (ASG) as well as the Social Security Administration.
GAO describes in its report an assessment of the five following categories in American Samoa: wages, employment, employer actions, inflation-adjusted earnings, and worker’s views regarding the increases.
“This GAO report is critical for analyzing the impacts of the escalating minimum wage for American Samoa,” Faleomavaega said. “As I mentioned in my letter to the Fono last month, the report reaffirms that American Samoa’s economy is at a tipping point, and I have already contacted Chairman Miller's office and we are working closely together on next steps which may include further halts or delays."
"We both agree that the report is clearly more thorough than anything done before and it shows especially how difficult American Samoa's economic position is at the moment, with a variety of factors at play, including the recent transformation of the tuna industry which is making it next to impossible for our tuna industry to compete against foreign countries that pay their fish cleaners 0.75 cents and less per hour."
"The GAO report also illustrates how limited American Samoa's economic options are given that our entire economy is almost totally dependent on the tuna fishing and processing industries. While our local tuna industry was already operating in 2006 at about a $7.5 million per year loss prior to increases in minimum wage ever going into effect, it is clear that further adjustments or delays in minimum wage need to be made in light of the GAO report until such time as we can stabilize our tuna industry."
"Unfortunately, the report makes no recommendations about what can be done to ensure that workers in both American Samoa and CNMI receive fair wages to compensate for increases in cost of living. But the GAO report does reaffirm the real need for American Samoa to diversify its economy and hopefully any plan of action put forward will be based on the findings of the American Samoa Economic Advisory Commission which issued its report in 2002."
“Again, I want to thank Senator Inouye, Senator Bingaman, the late Senator Kennedy, Chairman Miller, Chairman Obey, Governor Togiola and the Fono for their support and assistance. I also want to thank Dr. David Gootnick of the GAO as well as his staff for their efforts in producing this report."
"I will now call upon the Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Insular Affairs to hold a hearing on this report and I look forward to working with my colleagues to provide a more prosperous future for the people of American Samoa,” Faleomavaega concluded.