San Nicolas: federal reimbursement for local war claims program not likely to happen
Delivering his first congressional address before the 35th Guam Legislature on Monday, Guam’s Delegate to Congress Michael San Nicolas confronted local leaders over the enactment of a local war reparation law, which he warned is not only bound to fail but will likely jeopardize H.R. 1365 as well.
“It is very plain from my perspective that any alternative attempt to pass a federal measure to reimburse local expenditures is not going to succeed,” San Nicolas said, urging the local legislature to repeal the newly signed Public Law 35-61, which establishes the 75th Guam War Claims Fund.
P.L. 35-61, introduced in the Guam Legislature as Bill 181-35 and signed by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Jan. 3, authorizes the governor to tap local funds to pay for the WWII survivors’ adjudicated war reparation claims. Local leaders anticipate these local funds — with $14 million already set aside by the administration — to be reimbursed by the U.S. Treasury through a yet-to-be signed memorandum of understanding.
“That will never happen, and to attempt it in the Congress would evaporate the credibility and goodwill we have earned in pursuit of something that is certain to fail,” San Nicolas said in a two-hour speech.
Setting aside local funds, San Nicolas said, “just presents unnecessary risk to the current process, and it is money that will very likely never be reimbursed federally.”
“Members of Congress will scoff at the idea of expending federal monies to reimburse a single districts choice to expend its own local funds, and no member of Congress will support such an undertaking as it would open the door for every single state and every single district to try to angle federal reimbursements for their own spending decisions.”
The Guam delegate has been at odds with local Democratic leaders over Bill 181-35, which he said would compromise impede his bill, H.R. 13-65. Now pending in the U.S. Senate, H.R. 13-65 seek to fix the technical errors in the Guam Meritorious Claims Act.
“We were able to secure from the Trump Administration a letter of support from Interior Secretary Bernhardt, and a letter of attestation from Treasury that H.R. 13-65 is technically sound for Treasury to act and release checks,” San Nicolas said. “Without the support of the Republican Party of Guam and the Trump Administration, Republican support that we have seen thus far in the Congress for HR 1365 would not have materialized.”
While H.R. 13-65 is not an appropriation measure, San Nicolas noted that the bill still involves funds disbursement, which would require “scoring” by the Congressional Budget Office.
“Scoring basically determines if something has a cost or not, and to this very day I do not understand how the Budget Office scores something already funded with Section 30 money as yet another an added cost,” San Nicolas said, “but it did, and that created a new hurdle we needed to overcome to clarify the true funding mechanism and the reality that H.R. 13-65 was not an earmark.”
With Guam’s war reparation law interfering on the side, San Nicolas said, H.R. 13-65 “will be negatively scored.”
“How do we pass this measure even with its negative scoring? How do we get a negatively scored bill passed that on the surface appears to be committing federal dollars only to Guam? How do we get this through both Houses of Congress?’ San Nicolas asked.
“With fiscal conservatives in the Blue Dog Democrats and in the Republican Minority, negatively scored bills are tough sells. With so much gridlock in Congress negatively scored bills only see the light of day if they are big ticket items that affect multiple jurisdictions, not just something for a single district like Guam.”
At the local level, San Nicolas is seeking to work out a compromise with the legislature. “If we can agree to work together today, the legislature can repeal the local war claims process, take that risk off the table, and we can all get behind H.R. 13-65,” he said.
If there is $14 million in excess in local funds available, San Nicolas suggested that any available extra money be used for surveying lands in the Chamorro Land Trust and get the lands to the more than 9,000 people and their families who have been waiting for almost 25 years.
“Many of our families waiting for War Claims are also waiting for their Chamorro Land Trust Lands, and $14 million in local funds is enough to survey all the lands for everyone waiting,” San Nicolas said. “Senators, governor, working together we can make this New Year, 2020, the year we pay war claims and distribute all Chamorro Land Trust lands.”
Unlocking land access and increasing Guam’s house inventory “will address stifling rental prices” and “will bolster money for education by generating nearly half a million dollars in new property taxes every year, and most importantly, it will be our local government keeping our word to our local people,” San Nicolas said.
He said Guam must let the federal government carry the burden of paying war restitution with Section 30 money, and the local government must use local funds “to make good on what we owe to our local people waiting for their Chamorro Land Trust lands.”
In a statement, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero objected to San Nicolas' call for the repeal of PL 35-61.
“We will not ask any survivor to wait one more day than necessary. The federal reassignment of claims process is already part of federal law. That is the process by which we will be repaid. Whatever influence Guam may have in Washington D.C., we hope it will be used to help this process, not hurt it. No one should pit Chamorro Land Trust recipients against the manåmko’. We are all better than that."
Leon Guerrero is targeting the issuance of the first check by the end of January.
Republican Sen. James Moylan, however, cautioned the governor against giving war survivors “a sense of false hope.”
“Unless a memorandum of understanding has been finalized, or that the executive branch has timelines of when it will be accomplished, making declarations that claims will be paid ‘starting at the end of January,’ is essentially providing a sense of false hope to war survivors,” Moylan said.
“It is already unfortunate that many of our elders assume that the enactment of this new law guarantees payment, with some anticipating checks in the mail within the coming days,” he added.
Moylan said the government must be cautious in sending out these “smoke and mirror” assumptions, and present the true picture of what PL 35-61 is all about in terms of what allows for the claims process to be initiated, and what obstacles actually exist.
“Likewise, if we don’t have any specific timelines on when the checks will be available, let’s be sincere in making that clarification. Anything else would be sending our manamko, and the community in general, a sense of false hope,” Moylan said.