Guam asks for more federal aid, visa cap exempti0n and 'self determination'
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero today presented a list of items Guam wants from the federal government during her oral testimony before the Senate committee on energy and natural resources.
Highlights of her testimony as follows:
Support for New Public Hospital
Beyond resilient, we are equally resourceful. Traveling nurses assigned to Guam can vouch for the tenacity of our local healthcare heroes who quite literally keep the hospital roof from falling. But band-aid fixes are not a long-term solution for our facilities which are in desperate need of critical care. In 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers assessed and recommended that our public hospital be replaced to ensure safety and accreditation. Last year, the House passed the Build Back Better Act, which included $347 million to construct a new hospital, as recommended by the Army Corps.
Although we are engaged in pandemic response, we remain focused on recovery. Along with economic diversification, we cannot abandon our number one industry. Before COVID-19, 1 out of 3 jobs was tourism-related. Now, arrivals have decreased by 92 percenr, and thousands have lost work. With a full recovery not expected within the next 3 years, I ask this committee to consider passing an additional relief package specifically for territories to address previous federal aid disparities and our prolonged hardship due to reliance on international tourism.
H-2B Visa Situation
To achieve full recovery, we will need help. Guam’s H-2B worker population went from zero in May 2018 to over 2,000 workers last month due to the military buildup. However, the H-2B visa exemption only helps the construction sector, mainly for the construction of a new Marine Corps base, and will expire in 2023.
As we diversify our economy, we will need more workers, for both civilian construction and non-construction industries, as we develop the skill sets for these new ventures. I ask you to extend the exemption to 2029 and establish a Guam-Only temporary need criteria within the H-2B program that would recognize “other qualified need” as determined by the Governor of Guam. There is Congressional precedence for such a program to be developed and I hope that we can explore this further as such a program would need Congressional action.
Long before our struggles with the pandemic, territories were facing another healthcare crisis, namely inequity with Medicaid. Temporary efforts have provided more funding to Guam and increased our matching rate. However, we will soon revert to annual caps and expiration dates for federal Medicaid funding and be required to match at a high 55:45 ratio. Therefore, I ask you to remove our Medicaid funding cap and expiration dates and base our matching rate on per-capita income, like states.
On the Compacts of Free Association treaties, I ask to participate in treaty re-negotiations to include the following amendments: Full reimbursement for future expenses borne by Guam attributed to compact migration; Debt swap of past unreimbursed expenses; Screening originating in the FAS prior to arrival in Guam; Extension of Medicaid coverage to FAS citizens in their home nations; and Expansion of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).
On self-determination for the people of Guam, I ask you to pass a bill to advance a process to allow us to articulate our desired political status.
State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and Build Back Better Act
Lastly, I ask you to amend the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to include Guam in the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and to pass Build Back Better which would be significant to Guam by expanding Medicaid and the Child Tax Credit; extending SSI to Guam; providing more support in education, housing, and infrastructure needs, especially for a new public hospital; and position Guam’s economy for stronger growth, which will advance our nation’s competitive global position.
Following the governor's testimony, the Democratic issued the following statement:
“We commend Governor Leon Guerrero for making Guam’s case before the U.S Senate, a place where decisions about Guam often occur without our island having weighed in on policies that hinder our progress and quality of life.
"Whether it was seeking fair treatment for Guam and her sister-territories in SSI and Medicaid, requesting a Guam-specific H2B program to drive down the cost of home construction, or fighting for a place at the table during the renegotiations of the Compacts of Free Association, it is clear that Governor Leon Guerrero is doing everything she can to push Guam’s federal agenda forward.
"Governor Leon Guerrero fully understands that the choices made in the U.S. Senate can have lasting impacts on our lives here at home. We all want affordable health care and safer streets—she’s working every day to make that happen.”
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