Tongan Americans face disproportionately higher rates for infections and illnesses, but language barriers, citizenship, and distrust hinder their access to proper health care. As of 2010, 26% of Tongan Americans are not insured, which is more than twice the percentage of uninsured for White populations at 11%. Many Tongan Americans cannot reach the services they need if they get sick. Higher annual premiums raise the entry barrier to proper health insurance, so families cannot satisfy their basic health needs. Within larger families, they cannot cover as much because of the cost per family member. Heart disease is also the leading cause of death for Native Hawaiian/Pacific islanders. With a per capita income of $9,654 (lower than any other ethnic group), more NHPI cannot afford to pay for health insurance to care for their illnesses. Hospitals and health resources may not have proper in-language resources either. This creates a dangerous environment for families who cannot pay for expensive healthcare bills. As healthcare costs rise, families begin to distrust the system and its expensive benefits.
Within this COVID-19 pandemic, Tongans cannot reach as many resources as other populations. Information for food security assistance and resources may not be in the Tongan language either, so these outlets cannot reach the populations that need them the most. Many foreign-born Tongans also cannot reach government assistance programs if they do not qualify under the immigration status requirements. For undocumented individuals, they face the fear of deportation amidst a pandemic and limited resources.
COVID 19 Effects
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations are disproportionately getting infected with COVID-19 within Riverside County. As of July 16, 2020, there are 1,023 confirmed cases of COVID-19 for every 100,000 NHPI, which is greater than any other ethnic group within the Inland Empire.
For more information, see Riverside County’s COVID-19 statistics
Obstacles to Assistance
Tongan Americans face obstacles that limit their access to government and local assistance. In the face of these barriers, MALO is connecting the Tongan community to local resources and support.
- 19% of Tongans in the United States had limited English proficiency (A Community of Contrasts 2014).
- There are limited translators for the Tongan language for government resources.
- Individuals cannot access resources like unemployment assistance without translators.
- Government assistance programs cannot reach a large number of foreign-born Tongans because of their citizenship status.
- 35% of Tongans living in the United States were foreign-born from 2006 to 2010 (A Community of Contrasts 2014).
- Many individuals have compromised immigration statuses that disqualify them from programs.