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  • By Alex Rhowuniong

FSM citizens receiving adequate Covid-19 assistance

Students on Houk, an outer-island in Chuuk, at their Houk Elementary School putting COVID-19 spaces between themselves for save distancing. Facebook photo

Ruphino Robert laughed when he recounted a rather funny experience with a local bank while depositing his money from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program a few days ago.

"Maybe because I don't look rich," Robert said in jest, "even though I took a long shower, combed my hair slick and made myself really presentable by putting on my best island wear."

A bank teller, he said, looked rather surprised at the wad of money contained in an envelop he pulled from his pocket .

Robert said the first thing that came out of the teller's mouth with eyes wide was: "Where did you get that money from?"

"Doesn't this guy know millions of U.S. dollars in PUA lump sum monies have been released from GovGuam for many island residents the past few weeks?" the Maite resident thought to himself.

Robert, a Chuukese veteran, had his unemployment benefits held up at the Bank of Guam for fraud inspection for a few days.

"The whole time I just kept thinking," the 55-year-old said, "'perhaps all this getting ready and dressing-up was for nothing. Maybe I do look like a bank robber in this get-up.'"

Robert and his wife, Youme, are among the many Micronesians who have been getting financial help during the pandemic. All citizens from freely associated states, who live on Guam, are eligible under the federal PUA program, which decreased from a maximum $960 to $345 at the end of July 2020.

In Yigo, Jerlyn Soram, also from Chuuk, has started furnishing her house using her benefits. She just moved into her home a few weeks ago.

Billy Tairak of Sinajana has bought himself a pre-used 2004 Honda Ridgeliner. He's been without a car a few months since he wrecked his other car in March.

Agnes Umwech of Dededo has used some of her funds to buy car parts.

Another help available to Guam residents from the islands of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia, and all other citizens from the Compact of Free Association countries, are the ongoing free weekly Covid-19 mass testing on-island as well as targeted testing.

“Yes, absolutely!” said Janela Carrera, project coordinator at the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services, said when asked if FAS citizens are included in local Covid-19 response programs.

“Whenever we do community testing, we also plan for targeted testing,” Carrera said. Targeted testing, Carrera said, is not referring to the free weekly mass testing in villages. Rather, these are Covid- 19 testings done in targeted areas for certain targeted members of the island’s population. “For instance, the elderly population at their housing at Kuma Trankilidat (in Tumon), we also did one for Hemlani Apartments in Harmon, where there are a lot of Chuukese,” Carrera said.

The outreach schedule for DPHSS on their website showed public housings in Umatac, Agat, Dededo and other villages done with testing; or already scheduled, where there are pockets of low-income residents including Micronesians and other FAS citizens.

“The other thing we also do,” Carrera said, “is whenever we create content or PSAs or graphics, we always translate our materials into the many different languages, not just Chuukese, but also Pohnpeians and in the many other languages within FSM.”

FSM Consul General Teresa Filepin said all FSM citizens who are residents of Guam are receiving assistance as they are eligible for provided by both the FSM and Guam governments.

“They are not treated in a segregated manner because they are FSM citizens. If they are eligible for any Covid-19 related assistance, they have every right to apply to them as the next person,” Filepin said. “Same with the free testing being provided by the government of Guam. It’s free and open to everyone on Guam. No restrictions to FSM citizens.”

She said the FSM Consulate on Guam disseminates information through different avenues, including the social media.

“I created the task force that’s doing Covid-19 outreach work and working under the umbrella of the FSM Association of Guam. We are also working very closely with the project director of Micronesian Resource Center, who is also an active member of the FSM Association of Guam, to share translated Covid-19 guidelines and protocols,” Filepin said.

She said the FSM Consulate has been working with DPHSS and the governor’s office on the revamped information sharing effort to the Micronesian community.

“I am putting my staffs’ lives at risk everyday serving the FSM community. We have also been helping the Guam Department of Labor by assisting FSM citizens apply for their Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” Filepin said. “I asked the Micronesian Resource Center to get in on this assistance for GDOL so we can serve more FSM citizens. We are not sitting idle without doing anything.”

Carrera said the local government is working directly with the FSM Consulate Office to ensure that if there any concerns or issue, the FSM citizens can reach them any time.

"So, we do include Chuukese in our efforts to battle this virus," said the former communications director for the Office of the Governor of Guam, "and other FSM and COFA citizens because they are a very important part of our outreach across our island." A source who asked not to be identified said the some of the 26 Chuukese who have tested positive for Covid-19 since March were associated recently with a San Agustine funeral service for a deceased whose body had been flown in from Hawaii.

To date, the source said, there have been a number of them cured and gone home.

“There is now a total of seven people from Chuuk in the hospital,” he also said, “With six stable and one in critical condition in the intensive care unit. He’s been there for about two weeks now with no improvement.”

John Patis, a member of both the FSM Association of Guam and Chuukese Association of Guam, however said,

“Many of us Chuukese [on Guam] do not understand the seriousness of this virus.”

Patis said some who are quarantined at home violate the protocols.

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