By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has rebuffed a Republic senator's plea to tap the American Rescue Plan grant for inflation relief, saying the federal funds have been fully apportioned.
“However, the lack of available ARP funds does not mean you cannot spearhead an effort at the legislature to provide direct aid to our people utilizing general fund monies,” the governor said in response to Sen. Frank Blas Jr.'s June 3 letter. “I invite you to explore the mechanisms within your control to help our people, as I have.”
In his letter, Blas asked the governor to provide direct cash assistance of $1,000 for each individual taxpayer and $2,000 for joint filers to help mitigate the impact of the rapidly climbing prices of basic commodities.
He noted that GovGuam is still holding a balance of $345 million in ARP funds.
“While you note in your letter that ARP funds have not been fully expended, I assure you they have been fully dedicated,” the governor said in response to Blas’ letter.
The governor has set aside the remaining ARP funds for the construction of a new hospital, her centerpiece project.
“The ultimate construction of a new hospital is a long-term goal that will help our people live healthier, fuller lives for generations, and I intend to make good on my promise to deliver this hospital to our people,” she said.
Leon Guerrero said her administration has implemented direct economic relief programs, “lawfully putting $800 into the hands of our most vulnerable residents,” in compliance with the rules governing the use of ARP funds.
She said the administration’s All RISE program cost more than $37 million. The Department of Revenue and Taxation processed more than $8.4 million for child tax credit claimants and distributed $300 to each eligible household under the Prugrảman Salảppè Ayudon I Taotao.
“Direct aid programs certainly provide critical, short-term relief, which is why we have implemented substantial direct aid programs that continue to this day,” Leon Guerrero said. “However, as we provide short-term aid, we must not lose sight of long-term measures that will take our island forward into the future.”
The governor said tapping the general fund for a new stimulus program would be less complicated.
“Such measures would not be subject to federal rules and guidelines, and may be implemented broadly to provide support to individuals regardless of whether they suffered from the negative economic impact of the pandemic,” she said.
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In the CNMI, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres recently announced a second round of stimulus disbursements to local taxpayers, who will each receive $500.
"It is unclear from the headlines how precisely the CNMI will roll out its new stimulus program, and the eligibility requirements it will implement in furtherance thereof and in compliance with the Treasury’s final rule," the governor said.
"Our direct aid programs, which substantially exceed the CNMI’s in scope, closely track the requirements of the final rule’s governing the use of ARP funds, including observing the restriction of providing direct aid to low- to moderate-income households, utilizing the published Federal Poverty Guidelines."