By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The government of Guam will tap the general fund to cover the $26 million appropriation for a local power rate relief program, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said Thursday, capping her wrangle with the legislature over the use of the federal Covid-19 grants for utility credit assistance.
"We do not need to obscure our true use of federal funds. We do not need to misrepresent the nature of our programs to make it appear as though we are complying with the law," Leon Guerrero stated in a letter to Speaker Therese Terlaje after signing Bill 325-36, titled "The Prugråman Ayuda Para I Taotaoa Energy Credit Program.
The bill, now Public Law 36-106, pays a $500 credit toward the account of current Guam Power Authority residential and commercial subscribers, to be disbursed $100 per month for the next five months.
The program applies to 1,508 sub-metered customers of the 17 master-metered account holders.
"This amendment requires that the master-meter account holder must provide GPA with a notarized certification that their master-meter actively provides energy to the customer in their facility," said Sen. Joe San Agustin, the bill's author.
The bill identifies three possible sources to fund the program: 1) fiscal 2021 excess general fund revenues; 2) fiscal 2022 general fund appropriations as authorized; and 3) federal appropriations that can be used for purposes of the bill.
The governor has rejected the legislature's proposal to draw from the American Rescue Plan fund, repeatedly invoking a federal rule that restricts spending to Covid-related expenditures.
Testifying before the legislature last week, Congressman Michael San Nicolas said the final rule for the Coronavirus State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds covered assistance to impacted households to "include aid for reemployment, job training, food, rent, mortgages, utilities, affordable housing development, childcare, early education, addressing learning loss, and many more uses."
The governor, however, disputed San Nicolas' assertion. "Based on a thorough review of the final rule, I stand firm in my assessment that ARP monies are not available to fund the credit authorized in this bill," she said.
She noted that the utility credit is intended to offset the rise in power costs resulting from the gas crisis in the advent of the Russian-Ukrainian war.
"In sum, all ARP funds have been dedicated, and ultimately, they are not available to encumber, obligate or expend for the purpose identified in this bill," Leon Guerrero said.
"However, the restrictions preventing the use of federal funds do not apply to the use of local funds, and the utility credit in Bill 325-36 may therefore be funded utilizing the general fund appropriation contained in the bill," she added.
Bill 325-36 was passed by the legislature during an emergency session this week.
“With all our people experiencing hard times due to the increased cost of living including that of groceries and utilities, my team and I worked hard to find ways to provide some relief to our people," San Agustin said.
"The Prugråman Ayuda Para I Taotao-ta was realized to do just that. We appropriated over $26 million to ensure every meter receives this credit so it will help families keep food on the table and the chance to keep caring for them,” he added,
“We could not leave out those who obtain their energy through a master meter. They, too, are families who pay and receive the services of GPA. I am happy that my colleagues agreed we must include them and give them the same credit,” Sen. San Agustin said.
“I am pleased that our local senators took action to provide financial relief to GPA ratepayers against the sharp rise of fuel oil costs. I appreciate the legislative bipartisan and executive support for Bill 325-36.GPA will work with the Department of Administration to release the funds and program rules as quickly as possible,” said John M. Benavente, general manager. GPA said it will apply the appropriate credit to eligible residential and commercial accounts upon receipt of funds from DOA.
Payment credits will be specifically noted on residential post-paid and commercial customer billing statements. Residential pre-paid customers will receive a text or email message noting the application of credit to their accounts.
GPA issued the following FAQ
What does PublicLaw 36-106 provide ratepayers?
Bill 325-36 (COR) is now Public Law 36-106, Prugråman Ayuda Para I Taotao-ta Energy Credit Program, it provides residential, master-metered, and commercial customers with a $500 credit toward their account, to be disbursed$100 each month for the months of July, August, September, October and November 2022, and shall only be credited to the current billing of such months.
How soon will GPA apply the $100 credit to each ratepayer account?
To ensure accountability and transparency, GPA and DOA are establishing program rules and guidelines to properly credit ratepayers as per the public law. We are working to provide credits beginning early August and aim to include $100.00 credits for months of July and August for bills issued in the month of August. The credit will apply as long as the customer has an active account. The credit will be visible as a line item on each customer’s billing statement.
How will this credit be applied for the multi-dwelling unit?
The law states that for master-metered accounts, GPA shall obtain a notarized list of the number of active residential utility power sub-accounts under that master meter to ensure the proper application of the credit to the master-metered account. A notification will be sent out to master-metered accounts. Landlords will have to certify the number of tenants with active accounts for each billing cycle to get the credit.
Will I still be eligible for the credit, if I terminate my account any time within the five months stated in the public law?
If you terminate anytime within the five months, you'll only receive the $100 credit for the months your account was active.
How will the credits be applied if I am a pre-paid customer?
For prepaid customers, the credit will be applied each month to active prepaid accounts.
Are Net Metering Customers eligible?
Yes, net metering customers are eligible.
What happens if my power bill falls below $100 in any of the five months provided under this program?
The credits will be applied each month, and any credits remaining will roll over to the following month(s) until exhausted.