The Covid-19 pandemic, which prompted mass flight cancellations, has left Tumon without any commercial activity. Photo by Mar-Vic Cagurangan
To expedite the release of unemployment benefits to Guam employees affected by the Covid-19 crisis, Sen. James Moylan is proposing the temporary use of local funds as a placeholder for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program until federal funds become available.
"Our office has drafted a measure which closely mirrors how the local government addressed the war claims payments earlier in the year," Moylan said.
The local war claims compensation program allowed the local government to tap into the general fund to cover the claims of war survivors, whose cases had been adjudicated. The local funds were later reimbursed by the U.S Treasury by virtue of a memorandum of understanding with the Leon Guerrero administration.
"Since your office was able to work with federal counterparts on Bill 181 (the war claims measure), I am optimistic that the relationships are in place to work on a similar arrangement for the PUA program," Moylan said in a letter to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.
Moylan's proposal seeks to cut the waiting time for Guam employees, who otherwise would not receive federal rescue aid under PUA until the Guam government established a local unemployment program that conforms with federal guidelines.
"Basically it would allow for the fronting of the monies to qualified recipients locally, and via a memorandum of understanding between the government of Guam and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, once the initial PUA funds for Guam are made available, that the federal government would reimburse the initial weeks (or a month) payment of the benefit to the local government instead of the recipient," Moylan said.
A component of the federal CARES Act, PUA provides assistance for unemployed or partially unemployed individuals who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance and who are unable or unavailable to work due to Covid-19 related circumstances. The program provides up to 39 weeks of benefits starting with weeks of unemployment beginning Feb. 2 through the week ending Dec. 26.
"What is devastating is that thousands of island residents, who have either lost their jobs or attained reduced hours at work due to this pandemic, will have to face additional weeks while trying to figure out how to place food on their families’ tables or address other obligations," Moylan said. "It is paramount that the local government addresses this problem immediately, and from our understanding, the government of Guam has received an initial deposit from the federal CARES Act, thus there are some monies readily available."
At Tuesday's press conference, the governor said federal monies are expected to come in by the first week of May. "As far as the Pandemic Unemployment Benefits, that one we are getting our processes and everything ready, so that when the money starts coming in, we can start giving them out," the governor said.
"This one is a much more complicated process because it involves identifying people who are unemployed, it involves working with the employers, it involves an application of the unemployed employee, it involves a criteria of conditions that need to be met by the people who are unemployed, it involves about two or three pages of application,” she added.
Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, meanwhile, told Moylan that the MOU with the U.S. Treasury for the war claims compensation arrangement took months to get finalized.
"Personally, I thought the Governor's Chief of Staff, Tony Babauta, was taking too long in securing the necessary agreements – so I reached out to the federal government myself," Muna Barnes said. "Yet, even with commitments from the federal government, individuals like yourself still voted no on the measure because you felt that a draft, conceptual MOU was just not good enough."