- By Pacific Islands Times News Staff
Guam senators seek updates on relief package, recovery plans
Minority Leader Telo Taitague requested Adelup to provide Covid-19 updates regarding efforts to resume public and private sector services, use of federal funding for advance stimulus checks and expenditure and compliance reports involving millions in federal funding.
“I’ve written to the governor with the hope that she and her team will offer answers on how they plan to get Guam working again – as families approach the end of nearly two months in self-isolation, many of whom have lost their jobs or have less hours to earn a living,” Taitague said.
Sen. Telo Taitague
“While I continue to respect the advice of medical experts throughout this public health crisis, I also look to the governor and other decision makers for details on how GovGuam can ensure continuity of service in the face of what may very well be the new normal. Do agencies know if and how they can provide services going forward – using personal protective equipment, technology, social distancing models, etc.? Are plans in place?” asked Taitague.
“The issues that I raise in my latest letter to the governor are topics shared by constituents who continue to reach out to me via phone calls, emails, and social media. Accordingly, I look forward to hearing from her office so that I may provide Guamanians with accurate and timely information concerning Guam’s Covid-19 response efforts. Our constituents expect nothing less,” Taitague said.
The Office of Sen. James Moylan will be hosting their first Community Virtual Forum this Wednesday, April 29, starting at 11 a.m. to seek updates from stakeholders on the status of federal relief funds, potential timelines for residents to anticipate their monies, and other issues related to transparency.
Moylan's office sent an invitation to the Directors of Administration, Labor, Bureau of Budget Management and Research, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Tony Babauta, Congressman Michael San Nicolas, and Public Auditor Benjamin Cruz for their participation.
Moylan's office said active engagement in the forum will be limited to the participants, but the community is invited to submit questions that may be considered if time constraints allow for. A courtesy invitation will also be extended to senators.
Sen. Jim Moylan
“The objective of the forum is to help the community seek answers to some very general questions related to federal relief," Moylan said. “We also hope to seek some responses on how the monies from the CARES Act will be expended, and while this is not an oversight hearing, we do hope that in the hopes of transparency, that a better understanding is provided.”
On the Democratic camp, Sen. Régine Biscoe Lee is urging Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to “dedicate at least 10 percent of the money Guam received recently from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for direct aid to our unemployed and under-employed residents.”
While Guam is eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the application process has yet to start pending completion of Guam's unemployment program that meets federal guidelines. While the stimulus funds have been partly distributed, PUA benefits for the unemployed and furloughed employees still hang in the air.
"People are hurting because help hasn't arrived. Many can't afford to wait another day. Funding may have been the issue two weeks ago, but that certainly isn't the case now,” Lee said.
Lee has offered up several possible programs for the governor to explore, which is supported by the Treasury’s guidance, including food delivery to residents, grants to small businesses, direct financial assistance to residents and vouchers distributed to residents for food or other necessary items
“While I believe all of these options are at your disposal without the need for new legislation, my office stands ready and willing to help the administration stand up any of the aforementioned suggestions,” Lee said in a letter to the governor. “Let’s work together to hasten the delivery of direct financial assistance to our people. They need it now more than ever.”
She said the proposed 10-percent set-aside for directr aid would be allowed through recently released guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury. The federal agency is advising state and local governments that spending of CARES Act funds may be deemed “necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency” if these expenditures provide “economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to Covid-19-related business closures.”
Lee has authored Bill 340-35, which sought to authorize "unconditional cash payments" to eligible individuals in the amount of $400 per individual and $800 for joint filers. The Guam Legislature has skipped action on the bipartisan bill based on the governor's announcement hat the administration would use $11 million of the $15 million potentially available to pay for this local economic assistance program.
But the Treasury’s guidance opens up funding opportunities through the CARES Act for direct aid programs and policies, Lee said.
“Although this guidance has just been released, it is my earnest hope that you will take swift action—as you have done before to implement other policies such as establishing roadblocks and expanding Covid-19 testing—to help the tens of thousands of local families who have been without an income for a month and counting,” Lee wrote.
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