CARES funds not fully spent accordingly; Public Health shortchanged
Photo courtesy of PNC Guam
Of $117 million budget from the CARES Act, the Department of Public Health and Social Services has expended only $513,237, according to Sen. Therese Terlaje, expressing disappointment in the way the administration allocated the federal assistance grants.
The October Covid -19 Relief Funds Expenditure Report released by the administration showed there remains $41 million in expended funds as of Oct. 31.
The expended amount included $313,237 for DPHSS Covid testing under “Item 1. Covid-19 related medical expenses” of the report and $200,000 under “Item 2. Covid-19 Related Public Health Expenses.”
The report further discloses that DPHSS was allocated zero dollars under “Item 4. Covid-19 Related Actions to Facilitate Compliance with Public Health Measures.”
In June, DPHSS made a request for an additional $3 million in Covid-19 Relief Funds for the Division of Environmental Health and other programs to assist with compliance and informed the legislature's oversight committee that the governor approved this request in August. Based on this report, it is not clear if this funding was received or will be received.
However, Lester Carlson of the Bureau of Budget and Management Research confirmed during Monday's legislative session that no additional CARES money would be allocated from the $41 million remaining to DPHSS.”
The report also lists $18,512,000 allocated to Executive Branch agencies for Covid payroll expenses under “Item 3. Covid-19 related payroll expenses for public safety, public health, health care, human services” of the report.
However, the report does not specify how much of the $18.5 million went to DPHSS personnel.
“The Committee on Health has consistently pushed for the prioritization of funding to DPHSS and GMH and have been repeatedly assured by the administration and agency heads that funding needs are being addressed," Terlaje said.
"Oversight hearings have exposed that DPHSS services did not extend to medical monitoring of those tested positive for COVID nor was it equipped to care for those with prior health conditions, sometimes was overwhelmed and lagged in tracing despite changes meant to streamline its processes," she added.
Terlaje found it "perplexing that the lead agency and most critical services vital to our health, safety and overall success against the coronavirus, have been the least prioritized with this funding."
With a continuing surge in positive cases and deaths in the overwhelmed public hospital, Terlaje urged the administration to prioritize the remaining $41 million in CARES funding to public health and GMH. Anything less is unconscionable."
Meanwhile, a measure to bring $470,000 of additional funds to Public Health moved to the voting file with no objection in legislative session Monday.
Introduced by Sen. Mary Camacho Torres, and cosponsored by Speaker Tina Muña Barnes, Bill 420-35 provides DPHSS funding support by appropriating $470,000 for its operations in Fiscal Year 2021.
The appropriation comes from funds remaining following the government of Guam’s full payment of the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) this year.
On Oct. 14, 2020 the GGRF identified that of the $14,898,000 appropriated, only $14,428,000 was expended toward the payment of COLA attributable to the appropriation in Public Law 35-99 leaving approximately $470,000 remaining in general fund appropriations.
Senators spent most of the afternoon in Committee of Whole confirming Torres’ proposal with the Bureau of Budget and Management Research, the Department of Administration, and the Government of Guam Retirement Fund. The GGRF confirmed that all COLA retirees and survivors had been accounted for.
“During the Fiscal Year 21 Budget, many of us were trying to find every possible dollar for Public Health—whether it was through appropriating excess revenues or putting in authorizations for continuing appropriations. We recognized that Public Health is short, and that we are in the middle of a pandemic," Torres said. “This bill is one effort to address the department’s shortage and make them whole. I humbly ask my colleagues for their support.”