By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
'Our island is rebuilding anew'
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Governor banking on new federal Covid relief package for economic recovery
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Monday delivered her third state of the island address, giving a self-evaluation of her executive actions during the Covid-19 coronavirus-year and presenting her administration’s post-pandemic plans for Guam. In her remarks themed “Rebuilding Anew,” the governor noted how the Covid-19 crisis had rubbed out the economic gains in the prior year.
The $1.6 billion Covid-19 relief assistance under the CARES Act has kept Guam afloat despite the economic collapse, and the governor is looking forward to the next round of stimulus package.
Guam is expecting to receive $661 million from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which passed in the Senate yesterday.
"This package has been sent to the House for reconsideration, and I am confident that the president will sign it," Leon Guerrero said.
"This will allow us to put money into the hands of our people; put employees back to work; help small businesses and non-profit organizations; and build a new hospital," the governor said.
Besides the Covid grants, the governor said Guam can expect a hundred percent reimbursement of the territory's earned income tax credit costs, which are currently shouldered by the local government.
"These stimulus dollars are a federal shot in the arm for our economy—strengthening it much like vaccines are making us stronger right now," the governor said.
"This package will also give my administration the flexibility to recover lost revenues and strengthen our ability to provide improved government services to our people."
In a bid to justify the unpopular public health policies implemented by her administration at the height of the pandemic, the governor said, “Our economy cannot thrive if its people are sick and dying. In navigating this pandemic, my administration had to first prioritize the health of our community.”
Claiming credit for the federal relief grants, she enumerated the relief programs implemented by her administration. She said her administration “put out nearly $1 billion in federal assistance and services so people could put food on their tables and businesses could keep their doors open.” “We injected nearly3,500 awards totaling over $270 million into our island through the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans,” she added. Guam was the only territory to provide direct aid to small businesses, the governor said, referring to the $20-million Small Business Pandemic and Healthcare Stabilization grant programs, also funded under the federal CARES Act, to help small businesses stay afloat. She also cited a nearly $5 million Rental Relief Grant Program—joining less than a handful of states that provided any form of commercial rent relief. “Knowing the economic impact our public health policies would have on our people, we quickly established Prugråman Salåppe' Ayudon I Taotao and devoted over $16 million to the people who needed our help the most. She said her administration “put out over $800 million in federal assistance through EIP, PUA and LWA.”
Business permitting streamlining
The governor announced the streamlining of business permitting process and appointed Guam Visitors Bureau president Carl Gutierrez as the "permit czar."
"Last year we created the Governor’s Task Force to Reform Government Permitting Procedures. And before this year is out, my administration will pilot a system of online business permitting— slashing wait times, harmonizing different agency requirements, ending long lines, and decreasing the uncertainty and permit lag time that slows and frustrates business growth," she said. "It is time we transform slow and outdated government bureaucracy through innovation and results. To the aspiring entrepreneurs and the investors seeking opportunity on Guam—maila halom! We are open for business."
The governor is proposing new investment in Tumon, asking the legislature to appropriate the first $50 million in proceeds from the legal sale of cannabis to end flooding in Tumon, invest in island beautification and cultural preservation, and repair village roads.
"I know that our tourism industry worries about our image with regard to cannabis. I hear your concerns, but the legal sale of cannabis will not define us. We must use the resources we have to shore up when times are hard, in order to be ready to compete against the world when times improve," the governor said.
Coinciding with the International Women’s Day, the governor urged senators to introduce a bill that would provide local women-owned small businesses with a set aside—mirrored after the local statute that prioritizes service-disabled veteran-owned businesses and programs already operating for decades in the federal government.
"This partnership between my administration, the Guam Women’s Chamber, and the Legislature will make meaningful policy to uplift generations of women. This program will pair big contracts with smaller companies to create local jobs. And these jobs will help guarantee our people more than just a paycheck."
"For years, healthcare experts knew that to survive, GRMC and GMH had to be partners in a holistic system of care—not competitors. In the chaos of Covid-19, they came together and our people are better because of it."