Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero spoke about Guam's recovery from Covid-19 during her third State of the Island address develieved before the 36h Guam Legislature at the Guam Congress Building on March 8, 2021.
The following is a transcript of his remarks, as released by Adelup.
The State of Our Island is Rebuilding Anew I. INTRODUCTION Lieutenant Governor Josh Tenorio, Madame Speaker Therese Terlaje, Chief Justice Phillip Carbullido, DelegateMichael San Nicolas,members of the 36th Guam Legislature, Mayor Jesse Alig, Mayors and Vice Mayors, members of the Diplomatic Corp, my First Gentleman Jeff Cook, distinguished guests, friends, family,and my dear People of Guam— Last year, I stood at this very podium and reported that the state of our island was stronger than it had been just one year before. Unemployment was down. Job opportunities were up. Tourism arrivals had achievedrecord highs. We returned tax refunds on time—paying withinmonths instead of within years. We ended costlyreceiverships at Guam Solid WasteAuthority and Guam Behavioral Healthand Wellness Center. And we finallyclosed a long chapter for our WorldWar II survivors—only to find ourselves throwninto the first global struggle of the 21st century. II. COVID-19 The COVID-19 pandemic invaded our shores last March. It took lives and livelihoods—it masked us and robbed us of how we comfort the sick, greet those we love, and educate our children. COVID-19 stole a year from us,but it could not stealwho we are for one another. Even now, I ask that we take a moment of silenceto honor those 133 livescut short by this virus. Yet even in the darkestmoments of this pandemic— We did not yield. We did not quit. We did not allow fear or frustration to break our spirits.
When FEMA first analyzed the potential courseof COVID-19 on our island,their models projected we could lose up to 3,000 lives if we did not intervene. Knowing that we had a small window of opportunity to prevent this from becomingour reality, we acted as quickly as we could. Lacking the authorityto close our Guam International Airport, we established the first mandatory quarantine for foreign travelers in recent history—long before other states like Hawaii followed suit. To date, 41% of our cases this year have been identified in quarantine. To prevent furthercommunity spread, we were the first among the statesand territories to implement a Stay-at-Home Order, to include the mandatory closure of all non-essential businesses, mask mandates, and the observance of six-feet social distancing. I know thesewere not populardecisions. But we made thesepolicies based on science and based on medical advicefrom the State SurgeonCell and Physicians Advisory Group. We made them because it was the only way we could contain the virus and prevent the collapse of our healthcare system. As COVID-19 has so clearly demonstrated, the real danger comes from more people needing acute treatmentthan healthcare systemscan handle. No ICU beds for strokepatients, for heart attack victims, or for those sufferingfrom trauma. Equally tragic, doctorsand nurses wouldhave to decidewho lives and who dies because supplies and equipment could run out. This was the reality for many communities across the globe. Every step we have taken,every course of action has been done with that in mind. Working with the Mayors, under the leadership of Public Health Director Art San Agustin and with our dedicated Public Health employees, we were able to expandour testing capacityfrom just dozens aday to a daily average exceeding more than 500 tests. As testing expanded,so too did our abilityto track and trace positivecases. We turned a bureauof 12 contact tracers into anarmy of 138 throughout the public and private sector. We also harnessed the power of technology in other ways—partnering with the privatesector and academia to create apps that tracked COVID positives, conducting periodic health screenings, and notifying those who were at risk for infection. Test, track, and treat—that was our approachto fighting COVID-19. And because of your commitment, your patience, and your understanding, it worked. Together, we fought back notone, but two surges of this virus.
We went from a COVID AREA RISK score of 47, with as many as 150 people testingpositive in a singleday, to a CAR score of zero point one. I want to acknowledge those who so valiantly gave of themselves to bring us to this point— To the service men and women who stand at the watchtower of freedom, to the nurses, doctors, and employees on the frontlines at PublicHealth, GMH, and GRMC, to our first responders, law enforcement officers,to the grocers, cashiers, food service workers,community food distribution workers, truck drivers,repairmen, to all those who kept our economy afloat—thank you. Madame Speaker, it is in recognition of this sharedstrength and the stubborn will of our people—that our island is rebuilding anew. Tonight, I want to talk about how we will achieve that shared mission—together. III. ECONOMY It begins with oureconomy. Our economy cannotthrive if its people are sick and dying. In navigating this pandemic, my Administration had to first prioritize the health of our community. But we also had to continue to lay the foundation for Guam’s economicrecovery. We cut our deficit in half—from 83 million to 47 milliondollars—in just one fiscal year, paying off liabilities that have been on our books for toolong. We delivered on our promiseto bring back H-2B workersto meet the needs of our island. To protect the health of our economy,we put out nearly 1 billion dollarsin federal assistance and services so people could put food on their tables and businesses could keep their doors open. We injected nearly3,500 awards totalingover 270 milliondollars into our island throughthe Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Guam was the only territory to provide direct aid to small businesses. Under the leadership ofMel Mendiola, GEDA created the Small BusinessPandemic and Healthcare Stabilization grant programs, channeling nearly 20 million dollarsto help our small businesses stay afloat. We implemented a nearly 5 million dollarRental Relief Grant Program—joining less than a handful of states that provided any form of commercial rent relief. Knowing the economicimpact our publichealth policies would have on our people,we quickly established Prugråman Salåppe' Ayudon I Taotao and devoted over 16 million dollars to the people who needed our help the most. My Administration put out over 800 milliondollars in federalassistance through EIP, PUA, and LWA.
Despite the devastation that COVID-19 broughtto our shores, we see signs everyday that we are fighting back. The Department of Revenue and Taxation issuedover 1500 new business licensesfrom March to September 2020. We’ve seen the birth of personal shoppingbusinesses and deliveryservices; people are earning money bysewing masks, baking, creating art. Children are going back to school. And friends who haven’t shareda meal in months can break breadat restaurants once more. Entrepreneurs are adapting, growing, and hiring again. Businesses are changingtheir models and collaborating to offer productsonline or in other uniqueways. IV. UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE Still, we must address the devastating fact that throughno fault of their own, at the height of this pandemic, nearly 30,000 of our peoplelost their jobs or experienced a reduction in hours. Few made enoughto save. And none of them had the securityof unemployment insurance— something guaranteed in each of the 50 states and Puerto Rico. Democrat or Republican, nearly everyone agrees that unemployment insurance makes economic sense. Its logic is clear and simple:businesses prosper when people have money to spend. With the right local law in place,I believe Guam canfund its own unemployment trust. We can do this by securing no interest federal loans—loans that can be offset entirely by theamount owed to us in Compact Impact debt. Congress recognized this in a 2003 federal law, and my Administration, togetherwith the Department of Interior and our Delegate’s Office, will fightfor its implementation. By achieving this goal, generations of workers will know that their basic livelihoods will be insured againstacts of God, economic terror,or as we have experienced, a global pandemic. Thanks to our friends in Washington, DC and the National Governors Association, we benefited from an emergency federal unemployment program. To the men and women of the Guam Department of Labor, led by Dave Dell’Isola: unemployment insurancein this country evolved over decades—yet you built this emergency system in just eight weeks. You helped thousands of families survive.I, and our people, thank you.
To the employees of Rev and Tax, under the leadership of Director Dafne Mansapit-Shimizu,and DOA, led by DirectorEdward Birn, you made sure men, women,and families were able to get the relief they needed. For that, we thank you. V. ONLINE BUSINESSLICENSE AND PERMITTING COVID has also highlighted one of Guam’sperennial challenges: our government’s antiquated permitting and licensing processes. Tonight, we set a goal simple in concept but complex in execution. Last year we created the Governor’s Task Force to Reform Government Permitting Procedures. And before this year is out, my Administration will pilot a system of online business permitting— slashing wait times, harmonizing different agency requirements, ending long lines, and decreasing the uncertainty and permit lag time that slows and frustrates businessgrowth. But we know that our progress must go further—we need to improveour business licensingand building permit process as a whole. As we emerge from this pandemic and usher in new investment to re-energize our economy, I am appointing former Governor Carl Gutierrez as the permit czar—a collateral duty to his role as GVB President and CEO. It is time we transform slow and outdated government bureaucracy through innovation and results. To the aspiring entrepreneurs and the investors seeking opportunity on Guam—maila halom! We are open for business! Senators, we all have a stake in how this process must protect our natural resources and adhere to our laws. But it must do so withoutholding responsible businesses, home builders, and developers hostage to government inefficiency. I know we can work together to get this done. VI. INTERNET FOR ALL As we lay the foundation for a stronger, better, more prosperous Guam, we must acknowledge the fact that too many on our island do not have access to reliable and stable internet—a necessity in our increasingly digital world. We are currently developing broadband infrastructure to support islandwide internet that is accessible and equitable for all of our people.On an island 30 mileslong, there shouldbe no excuse for digital inequity. As a pilot to Internet for All, my administration has been working with the Guam Department ofEducation and the Mayors Council of Guam to bring internet services to students who need it the most.We have already received the procurement bids and they are being evaluated. Soon, thousands of schoolchildren will have access toreliable internet services. As 2021 has welcomed students back to their physical classrooms and made allowances for those familiesthat felt saferlearning at home, I must also reporton our progress in addressing old education problems in new ways.
While others only talked about the need to build a new school, my Administration put up the money to make it a reality. We secured the funding needed for the design of a new Simon Sanchez High School and the contract has been awarded. This thorough processwill ask the Shark communityto envision and plan a school facilitythat meets their needs. It will take months and demand consensus and compromise. And we anticipate breaking ground on the new Simon SanchezHigh School beforethe end of 2022. VII. REBUILDING TOURISM COVID-19 has forced us to adapt to a different, more digital world, and we know we need to expand Guam’s economic horizon—but the fundamentals of our tourismindustry are still strong. Prior to COVID, nearly one-third of private sectorjobs were tied to tourism.But we know this industryis fragile—we’ve seen how strifein one part of the world affectstravel to our region. I propose to you that now is the time to renew our investment in Tumon—and acknowledge that to expand tourism, all of Guam must improve. To do this,I am recommending that the legislature committhe first 50 million dollarsin proceeds from the legal sale of cannabis to end flooding in Tumon, invest in island beautification and cultural preservation, and repair villageroads. I know that our tourism industry worries about our image with regard to cannabis. I hear your concerns, but the legal sale of cannabis will not defineus. We must use the resources we have to shore up when times are hard, in order to be ready to compete againstthe world when times improve. VIII. DAVE SANTOSACT To jumpstart our economy, we must invest in those hit hardestby COVID-19. That is why we cut small businesstaxes twice in the last term. Now 85% of taxpayers who file GRT—businesses making 250,000 dollarsor less in gross annualincome—pay a 3% Business Privilege Tax—not 5%. Senators, send me a bill that eliminates the sunset provision on these small business tax cuts, and I will sign it. Still, cutting taxesand reinvesting the proceeds of a new industry to strengthen tourismwon’t be enough. IX. Military Spending As new industries begin to take hold on Guam, we cannot ignore those that have withstood the test of time. As our tourismeconomy faltered under the weightof COVID-19, federaland military investments kept Guam going. Only 17% of the 8.7 billion dollar investment in the Guam Buildup has been infused into our economy, and the currentNational Defense Appropriation Act commits more than 630 million in new dollarsfor Guam.
Thanks to the work of our Community Defense Liaison Office,our partners in the Department of Defense, and our allies in Congress, we won new NDAA funding for the full construction of a public health lab, the opening of the cultural repository, and the expanded use of foreign labor on civilian projects. Taken together, theseinvestments—these fundamental shiftsin the status quo—will unchainour construction industry, spur development, help us preserveour culture, and create jobs. Still,we cannot ignore the uncertainty of relying on too few industries. Data shows that states that had multiple industries did better during this pandemic than states that had concentrated efforts in one or two. X. Job Creation We can fix this with jobs—more jobs and higherpaying jobs in a diverserange of fields. The two fastestgrowing sectors in the United States are healthcare and technology—industries that my Administration has been workingon since we came into office. Early last year, I taskedGEDA to createcommittees to explorehealthcare, technology, and telecommunication opportunities to better understand and expand our labor force. We also partnered with the Guam Chamber of Commerce to establish the Economic Diversification WorkingGroup. What began as a white paper is now a committed partnership between GovGuam and the private sector. We’ve introduced training programs at the University of Guam and Guam Community Collegefor nursing assistants, provided nursing studentswith on-the-job training, and for the first time in Guam’shistory, provided a paramedic certification program with the Guam Fire Department. And using an 8.7 milliondollar grant from the EconomicDevelopment Administration, UOG will construct more nursing school classrooms and a new lab to monitor our aquifer—projects that are expected to create nearly 250 more jobs. In 2020, despitethe pandemic, over 600 peopleparticipated in local apprenticeship programs. We issued nearly5 million dollarsin tax credits through the Guam Registered Apprenticeship Program, allowing our local businesses to hire more people. To help continuetheir mission, Guam Department of Labor has been awardeda 5 million dollar grant to expand their dislocated worker program. Workers who suffered job loss as a direct result of the pandemic will continue to receive additional training to pursue new careers in healthcare, construction, and more. We sponsored a truck drivingboot camp at GCC so people could find new career opportunities. Even before the pandemic, businesses like Cabras Marine knew that the foundation to growth is quality training and education, and so they partnered with GCC to offer Ship Repair Transportation Boot Camps.
Last year, I came to this hall excited aboutthe public privatepartnership at UOG’s Aquaculture Development and Training Center. Since then, an idea that started in academia now produces more than 1,000 pounds of pathogen-free shrimp a month—sold at both the wholesale and retail levels. Through their partnership with CoreSeed Aquaculture, UOG can provide us with access to a potentially multibillion dollarindustry for Guam, create jobs, and supplyus with locally-produced food. Not only can it become a foundational pillar of our economy, but it also helps us to becomemore self-sustainable, in line with our Guam Green Growth initiatives. One of those initiatives is the openingof the G3 Circular EconomyMakerspace and Innovation Hub at Chamorro village. Entrepreneurs will be able to gather in a place filled with tools and equipment to transform waste into marketable products. G3 will help our people turn waste into cash, and give them an ownership role in our transition to a cleaner and more sustainable Guam. These initiatives will help us to becomemore self-sufficient and better positioned to withstand futureeconomic disruptions. But for business opportunities to be real, they must also be a part of an expanding circle. XI. Women-owned Small Business Set Aside Now more than ever, publicdollars must stand behind all small businesses—especially those led by female heads of household. The World Bank reports that this pandemichas hit women harder. Women have had to drop out of the workforce in larger numbers due to child and parental care issues —especially those employed in retail, food service, and tourism. And while women represent half of the population, we represent only about 20% of businessowners on Guam. I cannot accept this realityfor my granddaughters—or yours. Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. Senators, to empower the women in our community, I am ready to sign legislation that would provide local women-owned small businesses with a set aside—mirrored after the local statute that prioritizes service-disabled veteran-owned businesses and programs already operating for decades in the federal government. This partnership betweenmy Administration, the Guam Women’sChamber, and the Legislature will make meaningful policy to uplift generations of women. All of you realize the special businesschallenges these groupsface. This program will pair big contracts with smaller companiesto create local jobs. And these jobs will help guarantee our peoplemore than just a paycheck.
XII. SUTA For many, the struggle is not only how to feed their families, it is also to be able to find a safe place to sleep. At the beginningof 2020, I announced that my Administration will reassert our designation as a substantially underserved trust area, orSUTA, with USDA. After settling the Chamorro Land Trust Commission lawsuit, we can finally begin the processto access resources to run water and sewer lines and electricity on CLTC property. Before this year is over,we will applyfor a SUTA grant so families can finally use their land and build their homes. XIII. Homelessness But no amount of progresscan hide the most devastating manifestation of poverty. Lastyear, I announced Project Atof, our plan to address homelessness. Under Lt. GovernorJosh Tenorio’s leadership and through our Office of Homelessness Assistance and Poverty Prevention, we established a temporary homeless shelter. Over 300 hundred individuals have gone through the Global Dorm in Maite—half of them children. To end the cycle of poverty, through our partnership with the Guam Homeless Coalition, we connected each of them to medicalcare, behavioral services, food and benefitsassistance—services people need to get back on track. To ensure those in schooldid not get left behind,we converted one of the rooms to a learningcenter. And since July 2020, three families have transitioned into GHURA homes with 15 more familiesin the process of gettingstable housing. The Department of Interior recognized our efforts, and we have now been awarded a 3 milliondollar grant for a permanent facility. As we work to craft and implementthese policies, our economy can never lose sight of the future.Last year, I noted that to buildwhat isn’t there,we have to see what others can’t. XIV. STEM Education And for that, we look to the stars. I am happy to announce that in the coming year, the Guam Air National Guard, under the leadership of Adjutant General Esther Aguigui, will establish the federally-recognized 254th Space Control Squadron. This new squadron will increase the size and strength of our Air Guard and providehigh-tech training in space and cyber security-related fields. These skillswill strengthen our national securityand plant the seeds of a 21st century economywe can grow.
Furthering that effort,2021 will see the Guam Air NationalGuard establish STARBASEGuam, a federally funded civil military program that educates students in Science, Technology,Engineering, and Mathematics. STARBASE Guam will provide hands-on, high-tech, real-life experiences to thousands of Guam’s elementary school students—lessons that will inspirenew generations and expand theirawareness of STEM careers. While we recognize the economic investments new skills in STEM will bring, if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that our economy is only as strong as our healthcare system—and that system is only as strong as the men and women who put on their scrubs and masks and report to work every day. XV. GMH Accreditation We all know Guam MemorialHospital has been challenged for years, but our strugglewith COVID-19 proved that it could still be counted on. While hospitals far better fundedthan GMH crashedthroughout the world, our island’sonly public hospital stared down waves of COVID-19. It did so because the professionals at GMH stood watch together.Under extraordinary strain,they adapted and they overcame. This year, GMH administrator LillianPosadas will begin the difficult process of regaininghospital-wide accreditation. Lillian and I both servedon the Board that achievedaccreditation at GMH forthe first time back in 2010. We know that seeking accreditation does not mean you are perfect, it means you are willing to face and fix your deepest flaws. It requires honesty, tireless focus, and the commitment of everyone entrusted with the mission of GMH. The end goal is a universally accepted standard of care—a standard Guam patients deserve. XVI. New Hospitaland Public Health Medical professionals and patients alike have long agreed that our island needs a new Guam Memorial Hospital. After many discussions with our partnersat the Department of Defense,we are assessing a location on excess federal land for a state-of-the-art Guam Memorial Hospital and Central Public Health facility. As we work to regainaccreditation at GMH and build a new public hospitaland public healthcompound, we must also acknowledge the essential role GRMC played in our fight against COVID-19. GRMC shared its staff and expertise, carried non-COVID patients to minimize the spread ofinfection, and investedin new technology to expandour testing capacityand treat our people. For years, healthcare experts knew that to survive, GRMC and GMH had to be partners in a holistic systemof care—not competitors. In the chaosof COVID-19, they came togetherand our people are better because of it.
XVII. Universal Healthcare To rebuild a stronger Guam, we must also admit what made us so vulnerable to COVID-19 in the first place. A year ago, I calledon this body to work with me in enactinga universal systemof healthcare— regardless of a person’s ability to pay. I asked that we see healthcare not as a privilege of the fortunate, but as a human right deserved by all. Weeks later, our island was thrown into the long struggle againstCOVID-19. 85 percent of those we lost to COVID-19 and over 70 percent of those hospitalized at GMH had pre-existing conditions that made them especially vulnerable to the effects of this virus. Many also lacked access to basic health care. The tragedy is that conditions like hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, emphysema, stroke, and obesity are treatable - and preventable. Despite the clear link between the health of our people and the health of our economy, some of you will ask: How can we afford healthcare for all? To you, I ask in return: How can the generation that survived the devastation of COVID-19 say we cannot? Under current Guam law, the Healthcare Para Todu Act requires the establishment of a pilot program premised on Medicaid for all. While this program hinges on an experimental waiver grantedby the Secretary of Health and Human Services and may requirea new funding source, it is the law of the land. XVIII. Public Safety Madame Speaker, I know that politics tends to highlight our differences. But some thingsare common to us all. Each of us wantsto feel safe on our streets and in our homes. Since the start of my Administration, we have added over 200 personnel to our public safety teams. And just last month, the Guam PoliceDepartment reported they are now seeing a 15% decrease in overall reported crimes compared to 2019. Passage of the Safer Guam Initiatives proposedby my Administration last year will help reduce our crime rate even further. Senators, I ask you to act on this importantpiece of legislation quickly. XIX. Suicide Prevention As we lost lives to COVID-19, we also felt the presenceof another, potentially more dangerous epidemic—suicide. Widely accepted estimates indicated that in June, July, and August of last year, we lost one life to suicide every six days. In addressing this reality, we had to take stockof yet another painful fact.
A recent report from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline indicated that for years, calls originating from Guam that soughthelp from the 1-800-number were never connected to a local crisis center for continued support. That was a danger we could no longer afford. So last year, the Guam Behaviorial Healthand Wellness Center,under Director ThereseArriola, stood up the first crisis call center certified by the National Suicide Prevention Line in the territories—and the first of its kind inMicronesia. As we battle this globalpandemic and fightthe needless loss of life caused by suicide, old enemies give us no rest. XX. Drug Addiction Drug addiction is a relentless curse upon our community. Delivering on my promise to permanently expandthe drug treatment options on Guam,I am proud to announcethe new Guam Behavioral Health & WellnessCenter’s Drug and Alcohol Building, which is expectedto break ground later this year. Last year, we began a process of assessing vacant government buildings to give them a new purpose. As part of this commitment, we are renovating the old DYA cottage homes in Talofofoto expand recoverytreatment options. As promised, these will be new places for treatment and healing, recoveryand reconciliation. XXI. Drug Interdiction Efforts But addressing addiction also means stoppingthose who bring illegal substances into our community. In 2020, despitethe pandemic, the Guam Customsand Quarantine Agency intercepted 110 pounds of meth, a 400% increase from 2017. Still, we must tighten all of our ports of entry. We delivered on our promise for a Container Inspection Facilityfeasibility study to lay the foundation for the screening of all cargoreaching our shores. Now, Customs is working with the Guam State Clearinghouse to secure the A&E designfor this facility. XXII. Relief PackagePriorities Whether it is fighting the importation of illegal drugsor the spread of an invisible virus,the battle to maintain a community that is fair, safe, compassionate, and prosperous neverends. Fortunately, we are not in this fightalone. Guam will receive 661 million dollarsfrom President Biden’s American Rescue Plan that passed in the Senate just yesterday. This package hasbeen sent to the House for reconsideration, and I am confident that the presidentwill sign it.
This will allow us to put money into the hands of our people;put employees back to work; help small businesses and non-profit organizations; and build a new hospital. This package will also give my administration the flexibility to recover lost revenues and strengthen our ability to provide improvedgovernment services to our people. And a provision I have repeatedly advocated to Congress and the White House has been accepted—this stimulusbill contains languageallowing Guam to be reimbursed 100 percent of our EITC costs, an expense that has haunted our budget for years. These stimulus dollarsare a federal shot in the arm for our economy—strengthening it much like vaccines are making us stronger right now. A vital part of rebuilding our economy and protecting our people is Operation LiberateGuam— our campaign to vaccinate at least 80% of our adult population by July. As of today, nearly 20% of you are fully vaccinated. So I urge you, when it’s your turn, to roll up your sleeves,get your shots,and take part in rebuilding Guam anew.
XXIII. Conclusion Tonight I am reminded of why I wanted to be your governor—a promiseto deliver fair, safe, compassionate, and prosperous change you can trust. I know there are too many who aren't sure Guam can ever changeor that I can deliverit. Change never comes easy and no governor can make changes alone. But I won’t play it safe... Or pointfingers... Or do just enough to get me through the next election.We have finished a difficultyear. Now, the promise of a new Guam spreads out before us. We are starting new businesses, reopening ones closed for too long, and putting people back to work... We are bringing children back to school... We are putting vaccines into the arms of our people - protecting you and savinglives. These efforts - our collective efforts - represent the bestof humanity.
As my close dear friend, the late Speaker Ben Pangelinan wrote: “Today, in a time full of cynicism, political sound bytes and press releases, we must remember who we are as a people. We once mastered the navigation of the seas…We survived a world at war…We are the inheritors of an ancient land...
We will build an economy which leaves no hardworking family behind... We will leave this land better than we found it.”
Si Yu’us Ma’åse, stay safe, and God Bless Guam.