Guam senators led by Sen. Regine Biscoe-Lee have introduced a bipartisan bill seeking to authorize a government funded taxpayer relief program.
Bill 340-35 titled “Recovery Income Support and Empowerment (RISE) Act of 2020 proposes the distribution of "unconditional cash payments" to eligible individuals in the amount of $400 per individual and $800 for joint filers.
The bill, Guam's mini version of President Trump's CARES Act, would authorize the governor to transfer $15 million to the Department of Revenue and Taxation for this purposes.
Seven senators, who co-authored the bill, wrote to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero seeking support for local financial aid.
“The local government should exhaust all options and implement all policies necessary to ensure compliance with your social distancing orders. Enacting punitive deterrents is an important consideration, but lawmakers from both parties agree that economic assistance and humanitarian relief are critical at this time,” the senators wrote.
For the better part of a month, Lee and her colleagues have been working to identify viable ways to grant direct assistance to workers who have been laid off, or have had their hours reduced. Finding a sound source of local funds has been the major impediment to these efforts.
“But given financial flexibility in the past, this administration has shown its ability to fund priority local policies, like the upfront payments of war reparations,” the senators stated in the letter. “Once again, members of the legislature are proposing this workable model: the administration finds the money where it can for direct economic assistance, and the legislature will authorize a ceiling of transfers from previously inaccessible funding sources.”
The senators said up to 30,000 families would benefit from the proposed RISE Act of 2020.
The legislation limits eligibility to taxpayers reporting less than $40,000 in income for single filers and $80,000 for joint filers. The bill, if enacted into aw, would allowing the Department of Revenue and Taxation to remit these funds using electronic means, rather than distributing paper checks.
The letter makes clear that an emergency session scheduled for this week will tackle not just the measures desired by the Governor, but also locally-funded aid to families dealing with a loss of income due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lee said she is open to other ways to accomplish this much-needed relief.
“Governor Leon Guerrero, you can be assured that we will answer your call to action on the legislative authority you seek,” the senators wrote. “But while voting on measures desired by our chief executive may demonstrate good faith to our Maga’håga and her administration, failing to pass direct assistance to suffering families would be acting in bad faith for the people we all serve.”
Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Guam Executive Committee and Republican Caucus of the 35th Guam Legislature urged the governor to "Pay Tax Refunds Now."
"While it was great to hear that yesterday an additional 248 checks were released in the amount of $861,000, we need to remind the administration that these were not only filings from a little more than five months ago, but represent a very small percentage of the nearly 13,000 island residents whose jobs have been impacted by this present crisis," the Republican Party said in a statement.
“Every day we are hearing of stories where individuals are worried about how they will address their families’ essential needs. Unfortunately, not everyone will qualify for public assistance, and federal relief programs are still far from getting into the hands of our people. There is much not within our direct control," party chairman and former senator Tony Ada said. "Tax refunds are certainly something in our local, direct control and should be paid to alleviate the suffering of our people today.”
The Republicans said tax refunds must be prioritized "so that we not only provide many families some breathing room, but these actions will help stimulate the economy as well (a much needed infusion for both the public and private sectors)."
Bills 319-35 and 322-35 , introduced by Republican senators, seek to address the priority of tax refunds being paid; this has been met with deaf ears and averted vision by the legislative majority.
“At the very beginning of the FY 2020 Budget Law - Chapter 1, Section 3 - senators prioritized $125 million for tax refunds, before any other appropriation. May I suggest we all remind the governor of this law. To date, there are thousands of tax refunds that have yet to be paid out," Minority Leader Telo Taitague said. "We recognize that these are times of many uncertainties, and our government is seeking solutions that are beyond 'business as usual.'"