Guam senators are asking Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to tap into the anticipated federal relief aid to cover the pay raises for government nurses pending identification of a sustainable funding source for this purpose.
In a letter transmitted to the governor on March 17, Sen. Mary Camacho Torres, Vice Speaker Tina Muña Barnes and Sen. Amanda L. Shelton asked that a fraction of the anticipated $661 million in Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds be used to shore up Guam’s nurses. “Just as any building requires a solid foundation, the delivery of health care demands an equally strong and stable workforce,” said Torres in her correspondence. “That is why I write to request that you dedicate a portion of the pandemic aid to increase public nurse salaries while we await the results of the Nurse Pay Study mandated by Guam Public Law 35-125.” The three senators sponsored Bill 61-36, introduced earlier this year to increase the compensation of all public nurses by 15 percent beginning Oct. 1. According to a fiscal note conducted by the Bureau of Budget and Management Research, the increase would cost approximately $3.27 million in personnel costs.
More importantly, it would cover over 500 nurses who’ve served at the front lines in not just the Guam Memorial Hospital Authority, but also the Department of Public Health and Social Services, Guam Behavioral Health and Social Services, and the Guam Department of Education. While critics of Bill 61 have argued that the government could not afford to pay all nurses what they deserve, Torres said the federal government’s full reimbursement of the earned income tax credit to the government of Guam can act as a sustainable local funding source to continue these increases and those finalized in the Nurse Pay Plan study moving forward.
“Now more than ever, our nurses —and the proposal to increase their salaries —should be treated as much of a priority as the set aside for tax refunds,” Torres said. “Paying our nurses what they deserve is not only an investment in the health and safety of our island —after this virus, it’s also the least we can do.” The governor earlier expressed her commitment to finding a funding source for Bill 61. Torres, in turn, will continue to pursue passage of the measure, which will provide the governor the authority to make adjustments to the nurse pay scale.