Cash assistance for 18K households on Guam unveiled
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is joined by GEDA deputy administrator Ricky Hernandez and Budget Director Lester Carlson at Tuesday's press conference.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Tuesday unveiled her administration’s $20-million disaster aid program that will provide direct cash relief to about 55,000 individuals who fall below the federal poverty level, and a separate $20 million assistance program for local businesses affected by Covid-19 pandemic.
The Prugråman Salåppe’ Ayudon I Taotao is the administration’s first publicly announced expenditure item under the federal Coronavirus Relief Funds or CARES Act.
“Under this program, individuals applying, depending on their household size, making equal to or below 165 of the federal poverty level, are 18 years or older, and have been residents of Guam for at least six months, will be paid $300 per eligible person not to exceed $1,200 per household,” the governor said at her press conference on Tuesday.
“As an example, for a household of one, 165 percent of the federal poverty level is $1,718 a month. This adjusts with every additional individual, adult or child, in the household. This means for a household of four and above, they will receive up to $1,200.”
The first checks will be cut on Friday, May 8, the governor said.
The program, which will be administered by the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services, will benefit 18,000 households representing 55,000 people, the governor said.
The Prugråman Salåppe’ Ayudon I Taotao is separate from the federal relief aid -- $1,200 per individual -- directly established under the CARES Act. Those who may have already received their stimulus checks may still expect additional cash assistance through the Salåppe program, the governor said.
“I know that many of our people need immediate relief. For that reason, I have signed Executive Order 2020-12, establishing Prugråman Salåppe’ Ayudon I Taotao—a direct disaster aid program that will be paid for with the Coronavirus Relief Funds authorized under the CARES Act,” Leon Guerrero said. "Though we are glad that this progress has been made, no one can ignore the immense pain this disaster has caused working families."
The cash assistance under the program, which is "for reasonable and necessary personal, family and living expenses incurred as a result of this Covid-19 disaster," is not considered an income and is therefore tax-free, according to the governor's executive order.
"The Department of Revenue and Taxation and the Department of Administration shall provide administrative and technical assistance to DPHSS in order the properly administer this program," the executive order states.
For struggling businesses, the Guam Economic Development Authority is developing a $20 million stimulus program that would provide direct grants to business owners, according to Ricky Hernandez, GEDA deputy administrator. The grant amount will depend on the size of the business, he said.
The governor said her spending plan for Guam's $117 million CARES Act funds does not require legislative approval since it involves funds that are directly given to Guam. She said any similar programs proposed by Guam senators are "moot."
Sen. James Moylan, however, said the governor's program is not sufficient.
"While I am certain there will be an appreciation for the $300 an individual can qualify for if they earn below a certain threshold, the problem is that her plan may not assist all individuals whose jobs were impacted by this pandemic," said Moylan, author of two bills that would provide direct assistance to employees and small businesses affected by the pandemic.
"An individual who was furloughed, and whose salary was even slightly above the specified poverty line, may not qualify for this program. Unfortunately, this does not address the unemployment problem," he said.
Moylan's Bill 350-35 would provide $800 for any individual whose job was impacted because of the pandemic.
"It would utilize data from the Department of Labor and would consider “crisis related” unemployment as the basis of qualification versus a poverty threshold," he said.
"The governor has stated that our plan is 'moot. I beg to differ, as Bill 350-35 not only helps those who were furloughed, but also provides a higher cash payment to assist many other needs for families. Our plan can certainly be modified to compliment what the governor has presented but, should not be disqualified. Unfortunately, the administration just went from mutes to moots."
Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee there may be people who aren’t eligible for the governor's Salåppe program.
"In the coming days, my office will be seeking out more information so another program can be offered to more workers and residents—especially those whose income rely on gigs, subcontracts, and Social Security," said Lee, author of Bill 340-35, titled RISE Act, which proposes $400 direct cash assistance to employees who were either furloughed or lost their jobs as a result o the pandemic.
"We will use the information gathered to either: amend Bill 340 also known as the RISE Act, to introduce a new bill, or to ask Adelup to stand up another policy that will help those still in need following the governor’s first round of assistance programs funded through the CARES Act," Lee said.
"Colleagues, there have been critics in and out of government who caution us to stay in our lane—who argue that we play a limited role in a federally-backed disaster response. But I wholeheartedly believe that were it not for a sustained push from this branch for more direct financial assistance, and were it not for our people communicating their desires loud and clear, we would not be able to promote the program announced today by the governor."