By Mar-Vic Caguranganm
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Thursday expressed support for a congressional bill that would identify native CHamoru organizations as an eligible disadvantaged group for federal contracting under the Small Business Administration (SBA).
But first, she said, Guam needs more federal money.
“To effectively implement this legislation, we request that an appropriation be included in the bill to adequately provide for the necessary resources that will be required to establish and maintain a Native CHamoru registry,” Leon Guerrero said, testifying before Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s House Committee on Natural Resources during a hearing for H.R. 6504, the Native Pacific Islanders of America Equity Act.
"Given the shortfalls caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we must ensure that our government will have the means to carry out the bill’s provisions effectively," she added.
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Introduced by Congressman Michael San Nicolas, Guam’s delegate to Congress, H.R. 6504 would require the governor of Guam to establish a database that would help verify ancestry and make indigenous business owners eligible to take part in Small Business Administration's programs afforded to other indigenous people in the United States. The proposed measure would also help indigenous business owners eligible for set-aside contracting opportunities.
“My administration is prepared to carry out the provisions of this bill requiring the establishment of a genealogy database under the Office of the governor of Guam to identify individuals as Native CHamorus,” she added.
Leon Guerrero noted that Guam’s population has significantly declined over the last 10 years. Results from the 2020 Census reflect an overall 3.5 percent decrease in the number of local residents.
“With the disruption to our lucrative tourism industry caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we look forward to the new business opportunities that this legislation would provide for Native CHamoruorganizations,” the governor said.
Leon Guerrero said the decline in Guam population and significant loss in tourism arrivals, “in addition to the inequity under federal programs,” will adversely affect the island’s ability to generate sustaining economic growth if additional opportunities are not created, especially at this pivotal time for economic recovery.
She noted that several businesses on Guam continue to experience economic loss and hardship stemming from the pandemic.
While SBA programs such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, Economic Injury Disaster Loan , and regular 7(a) loan guaranty programs have been vital in providing necessary economic aid, the governor said "we have noticed the inequitable treatment our people have received within these programs."
"For example, of the 297 Guam businesses that applied for funding through the RRF, only about 27 percent qualified and received RRF funds. Unlike our state counterparts, who have diverse markets to supplement their economies, our food establishments are a large segment of our island’s tourism industry - Guam’s primary industry. Guam is in a unique situation because our recovery is tied to international travel, which continues to be negatively impacted by the Covid -19 pandemic," she said.
Speaker Terlaje testified on behalf of the 36th Guam Legislature in support of
H.R. 6504, which she said will bring equity in certain federal contracting preferences and training opportunities to Native CHamorus and to the Native CHamoru nonprofit organizations that will be established.
"The success of the current Section 8(a) program and HUBZone programs is evident in helping meet critical needs for Native Hawaiians, Alaskan Natives, and the Native Americans. Again, equity for Native CHamorus will serve a similar purpose," Terlaje said.
“Parity for Native CHamorus in federal contracting preferences and community benefits associated with Native CHamoru nonprofit organizations is long overdue and necessary to assist socially disadvantaged and economically disadvantaged groups, as recognized in Congressional findings in the establishment of Section 8(a) and HUBZone programs,” she added.