Marshallese advocate Jiji Jally, who has stood-up more than once for the people of her Marshall Islands homeland, was lauded Thursday for her tireless efforts to protect State Food Assistance for her own community and for thousands of other immigrant families in Washington.
The Children's Alliance presented Jally with the 2nd annual Brewster Denny Rising Star Advocate Award at its "Voices of Children" luncheon held at Seattle’s Bell Harbor Conference Center.
"Parents bring their kids here because they want them to have the care, food, and education they need to grow up and succeed,” Jally said, adding, “When you see any hungry kid, you can’t stand it.”
The Washington State Food Assistance offers a lifeline for documented immigrants who don’t qualify for Food Stamps from the federal government. The program benefits about 12,500 children who have migrated from 160 countries.
Marshallese children and their families have the right to live and work in the U.S. under the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The U.S. conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshalls during the Cold War. Today the military connection continues with the U.S. Army utilizing the Kwajalein atoll for its premier missile base. When the Compact was first signed, Marshallese residing in the U.S. were eligible to federal health programs as legal residents, but in 1996, the Clinton administration cut off access for the Freely Associated States and other migrant groups.
Washington State established its food assistance program to pick-up the gap.
The program was cut drastically in the 2011 state budget. When Washington State legislators this year threatened to end the program entirely due to economic downturns, Jally took a high-profile role in the Children’s Alliance’s campaign.
Jally testified in Olympia, spoke at press conferences and brought other members of her community into the cause.
“It was hard to tell everyone: ‘We need to be there. It’s very important.’ It was hard to explain it and get folks out,” she said.
Ruth Schubert of the Children's Alliance said, "It was hard, but Jally did it. The stories she and others shared opened the eyes and hearts of many lawmakers.”
"Her leadership was critical in ensuring that there were no further cuts to State Food Assistance this year."
- Yokwe Online, with the Children's Alliance, June 9, 2012