Updated: Mar 30
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Ending the public health emergency would jeopardize federal funds that Guam has been receiving, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said Wednesday in a bid to justify the protraction of her extra powers that have been running for two years.
Defying the Republican senators’ call to terminate the public health emergency, the governor extended Guam’s emergency status for another 30 days.
Guam senators are scheduled to hear on Wednesday afternoon a resolution seeking to clip the governor's Covid-related emergency powers,
The resolution was introduced by Sen. Chris Dueñas along with co-sponsors Sens. James Moylan, Tony Ada, Frank Blas Jr., Joanne Brown and Telo Taitague.
“The drafters of the legislative resolution have not considered the broader implications associated with ending the public health emergency,” the governor stated in her latest executive order.
Leon Guerrero said the $2.3 million in monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program emergency allotments are at stake, affecting 15,000 households in Guam.
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“It is true that states such as Florida, Idaho, Arkansas and Montana have stopped issuing these emergency allotments, but it cannot be overstated how critical these funds are to our indigent population,” Leon Guerrero said.
“This aid is important to recipient families, and it is important to me. If the sponsors of this resolution intend to proceed without resolving the SNAP emergency allotments, they should be held to account for their decision to cut off this aid to thousands of our most vulnerable families during a global pandemic,” she added.
Smarting from Leon Guerrero’s comments, Speaker Therese Terlaje said, “criticisms of a pending resolution and the legislature, in general, are potentially distracting to the public" and detract from the governor's move to extend the public health emergency.
While acknowledging that executive orders “during emergencies are critical tools for rapid emergency response and critical public education,” Terlaje said such directives “should not be used as political tools.”
The governor first declared a public health emergency in March 2020 when the first cases of Covid-19 were detected on Guam.
Guam has since received nearly $2 billion in coronavirus relief aid from the federal government through the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act. A big chunk of the Covid-19 monies was handed over directly to the government of Guam.
Leon Guerrero said Guam's public health emergency status has allowed her to quickly facilitate pandemic-related responses, such as the activation of the Guam National Guard to assist in Covid testing and vaccination programs.
The governor and the legislature have been at odds over the federal Covid-19 fund expenditures.
While senators have repeatedly demanded transparency, the governor insisted she has sole authority to manage the funds.
Senators have challenged the governor's personnel hiring and sole-source procurements at the height of the pandemic.
Leon Guerrero sought to defend her administration's Covid-related transactions.
"Emergency procurements are, in fact, a creature of Guam procurement law, and are available in the absence of a public health emergency declaration, upon a certificate of emergency by the head of a purchasing agency and a determination of need describing a condition that poses an imminent threat to public health or the environment, which could not have been foreseen, and which could not be addressed by other procurement methods," she said.
Leon Guerrero said the emergency status "has enabled us to fill shortfalls in personnel by pooling health care providers from other agencies to assist in our response efforts."
"I have issued numerous executive orders to address diverse issues relating to the pandemic that fell outside the scope of direct medical response, including the prohibition on price gouging, the authorization for overtime to our overextended government frontliners, and the waiver of licensing and permitting requirements for additional health care personnel assisting in the performance of vaccinations, treatment, examination, or testing," the governor said.
The governor said her policies and actions have all been coordinated with the Department of Public Health and Social Services and consistent with her authority under the Organic Act,
"While the legislative resolution appears to characterize these measures as 'draconian,' it also acknowledges that these measures that our administration established to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have led to our island's success in weathering this pandemic, " she added.
The author and cosponsors of the legislative resolutions, however, said two years is long enough to allow the governor "unprecedented authority with bypassing laws associated with procurement and hiring'"
The governor has rejected the legislature's previously proposed spending plans for the federal Covid-19 grants. Senators will never have a say in how these funds will be used, she said.
“To be clear, ending the public health emergency would also not give the legislature power over grant monies received pursuant to the American Rescue Plan Act," the governor said. "However, the executive branch's use of these funds is still subject to federal oversight."