By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Guam senators have stepped up the pressure on Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to disburse more public assistance using the remainder of federal Covid-19 relief funds, which the chief executive repeatedly said have already been tagged for other purposes.
The senators wrote to the governor on Monday, asking her to open a second round of the Prugrăman Salåpe’ Ayudon I Taotao with expanded eligibility coverage to help mitigate the impact of the rapidly climbing prices of basic commodities.
Prugrăman Salåpe’, a stimulus program created by executive order, ended on May 22.
"The governor allocated $11.7 million to the program and has a remaining $8.3 million at the end of the program on May 22. The program has not achieved its intended usefulness, and a second round of the program is proper,” said Sen. Telo Taitague, main author of the letter that received bipartisan support.
“Fuel has become a lifeline for water, shelter, and food, and fuel price increases affect the affordability to get to work, the food we eat, and how people are able to live," she added.
The letter was co-signed by Speaker Therese Terlaje, Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, Sens. Joe San Agustin, Joanne Brown, Sabina Perez, Clynton Ridgell, Telena Nelson, Christopher Duenas and Frank Blas Jr.
The legislature convened into an emergency session last Friday to tackle several proposals to either repeal or suspend the liquid fuel tax.
Taitague attempted -- but failed -- twice to insert provisions into Bill 261 and 295 for the renewal of Prugrăman Salåpe.
Earlier this month, Blas wrote to the governor, asking her to tap the American Rescue Plan grant and provide direct cash assistance of $1,000 for each individual taxpayer and $2,000 for joint filers.
He noted that GovGuam is still holding a balance of $345 million in ARP funds.
The governor, however, rejected Blas' suggestion, saying the federal funds have been fully apportioned.
Guam senators noted that the governor received $578.7 million in aid under ARP, which offered "an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen our economy and communities."
However, the senators added, "the governor has yet to spend the remaining balance of $320.9 million."
“This is one-time economic recovery money. We must use it to achieve economic equity and not as a band-aid on something we will have to address again next year and not for initiatives such as our liquid fuel taxes that remain our primary revenue source for DPW to repair village roads," Taitague said.
In a separate letter, Sen. James Moylan reiterated his call for Leon Guerrero to implement "The RISE Act," which became Public Law 36-53 in August last year following the senators' vote to override the governor's veto of the measure.
The governor created and has since implemented her own version of the stimulus program she called "All RISE," pushing aside the legislature's "The RISE Act" which is now a dormant measure.
"I commend your efforts in creating your own program last year," Moylan said. "However, this should not discount the reality that 'The Rise Act' was a culmination of efforts of two legislatures, initiated by former Sen. Regine Biscoe-Lee in 2020, at a time when thousands were jobless, and yet still did not see any action from your office," Moylan said.
In 2021, the 36th Legislature voted to modify the program by increasing the payout from $800 for qualified residents to $1,000.
"The public law gives you the authority to determine the funding source for this program, but it seems evident that federal relief funds would be the ideal option to help families seek some relief at the gas and grocery cash registers," Moylan said in his letter to the governor.
"Unfortunately, all of this was ignored even after enactment, which resulted in unnecessary runarounds for families, many of which had to stay in line for hours," the congressional candidate said.
"It was heartbreaking to see individuals park their vehicles with their children in the backseats as early as 4 a.m. because your administration announced the All-RISE program as a first-come-first-served program," he added.
Moylan said his office is finalizing legislation to modify P.L. 36-53, primarily by increasing the income qualifying thresholds of The RISE Act.