Executive and legislative leaders hastily called a press conference last month to announce a brilliant plan. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero delivered a random introduction. War survivors, she said, do not have to wait for Section 30 money to receive their war claims. Local funds are available, she claimed.
What local funds?
The governor was referring to supposed savings that GovGuam stands to generate from the Disaster Relief Act, which contains, among others, a provision that would give Guam a relief from matching the balance of about $47 million funds from what was formerly known as Obamacare, which will expire on Sept. 30. Initially, I was unsure if I heard it right. But the governor and lt. governor made it further clear. The administration will use the funds meant for Medicaid matching to cover portions of the war claims.
The “available’ local funds will supposedly cover the war claims for 600 war survivors, whose applications have been adjudicated. A pertinent bill has been drafted, will soon be filed and signed into law before July 21, according to Speaker Tina Muna Barnes.
"Our survivors are here and they are slowly leaving us. It's been 75 years since the liberation of these very courageous and very loving survivors, our manamko'. What I would like to do is give them an opportunity to be whole now by giving them the war claims before all of them are no longer with us," Leon Guerrero said.
Elections are over. They are already in power. Why are they still campaigning? It’s cringeworthy.
The administration’s plan rings hollow, considering the fact that GovGuam constantly whines about not having enough cash to produce the local match for Medicaid.
In February, the Department of Public Health and Social Services told the legislature that it has exhausted its fiscal 2019 local Medicaid appropriation for the current the fiscal year. Public Health officials reported a potential $13.3 million shortfall for local matching Medicaid funds. An executive order reprogrammed $7.7 million from the GMH Pharmaceutical Funds for GMH Medicaid claims, still leaving a $5.6 million shortfall.
In a report to Government Accountability Office, the governor said 50 percent of current Medicaid enrollees are at risk of losing benefits after certain expanded PPACA funding for the program expires on Sept. 30, 2019. "Territory officials told us that while they do not plan to issue debt to cover this shortfall in federal Medicaid funding, it will cost Guam approximately $39 million to fund the program in fiscal year 2020," GAO said in a report.
If the Medicaid match funds are all used up and the department is running a deficit, then what “local funds” is the administration promising? Phantom money?
The administration’s plan doesn’t sit well with Guam Delegate Michael San Nicolas, who resents not being consulted on this random plan. After all, he has been hard at work to secure the passage of his H.R. 1365 that would correct the technical flaws in the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act.
The law authorizes the war claims payments using Section 30 money, with an initial $6.4 million expected to be released to cover $5.2 million for the adjudicated applications.
The Committee on Natural Resources unanimously passed H.R. 1365 during the June 19 markup hearing. No one knows for sure when the bill will become a law. Maybe in another 75 years.
Meanwhile, Vice Speaker Telena Nelson refereed between the administration and San Nicolas. “Though your offices may not answer to each other, we all answer to the people of Guam. For the sake of our war survivors, we plead to you both to work together for sound solutions based on the values of our CHamoru culture, especially inafa’maolek, which calls for collaboration and reciprocation in the overall goal of harmony,” Nelson said in an open letter sent to both the governor and the Guam delegate.
She added: “The people of Guam and our war survivors deserve nothing less and are watching as we try to close the chapter on this nearly 75-year-old story. Please, let us come together and continue to search for the crossroads that will lead our people to the rightful compensation they deserve before it is too late.”
Guam’s war survivors suffered the atrocities of war. Seventy five years later, they are suffering the atrocities of politics. Shame.
Mar-Vic Cagurangan is the publisher and editor of Pacific Island Times.