- By CJ Urquico and Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Leon Guerrero tells senators: Keep off the federal Covid grants
Updated: Mar 16, 2021
Governor maintains spending is within executive turf
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is seeking to guard her spending authority over the $660 million in Covid-19 relief grants that Guam stands to receive from the newly signed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
"It is the discretion of the governors of states and territories and I have to say this is something that has been lobbied with Congress in terms of more flexibility with the use of money," Leon Guerrero said at Monday's press conference.
Three Republican senators have proposed six economic recovery bills, which they said would provide spending plan options for the new set of federal aid.
"I look at these bills by their titles and we are already doing all these bills. I respect senators that they are thinking about it. But all these programs we are already doing," she added.
Leon Guerrero assured the Guam community that the new stream of federal funds "will go out to the people in the community" and "will not stay in the executive office to hire more political partners."
In response to critics' allegation that she was relying on federal assistance without any sustainable economic recovery plan, the governor said she is aware that the $660-million Covid-19 relief grant is a bridge funding to keep Guam afloat until tourism bounces back in 2022 or 2023.
"We are using this money to support a multi-diverse industry so we can have a jobs. I just want to let the senators there know that I don't have 'rose-colored glasses," Leon Guerrero said, smarting from Sen. Joanne Brown's earlier statement that the governor was not seeing Guam's economic realities clearly.
"I have vision and my vision is 2020. Our vision is very clear," the governor added.
The use of federal relief funds has been a contentious issue between the governor and the legislature. Last year, Guam received about $1.6 billion in Covid relief assistance under President Trump's CARES Act. Senators have repeatedly pressed for spending transparency but Leon Guerrero maintained that managing Covid grant expenditures is covered by her public health emergency authority.
Another emerging conflict is the governor's reluctance to implement The Rise Act, Public Law 35-136, a local stimulus program which was passed by the 35th Guam Legislature late last year and lapsed into law without the governor's action.
At Monday's press conference, Leon Guerrero said the Office of the Attorney General is still reviewing the law.
She earlier said proceeds from the Rise Act will instead be replaced by the Economic Impact Payments (EIP) because “the EIP is more.”
The governor was referring to the $1,400 EIP, as a result of the recently enacted federal American Rescue Plan, which thousands of island residents will soon be receiving.
The Rise Act was authored by then Sen. Regine Biscoe-Lee and was designed to assist thousands of island residents in the private sector with a one-time payout of $800 ($1,600 for joint filers).
Bill 340-35 provided the governor two options in funding the plan, with federal funds being one of them."
Gov. Leon Guerrero has stated on several occasions that her priority with the federal funds would be to address government shortfalls. In other words, to assure that public sector payroll is met. While no one contends with this issue, the question now is, “What about the private sector, and those individuals who have gone months without an income. Are they not a priority as well?” Sen. James Moylan asked.
Moylan said the language is The Rise Act clearly stipulates that “payments under this act shall be required only if the payments can be funded under a federal coronavirus relief package….”
He noted that a new relief package now exists, thus this is no longer about “if” the proceeds from the Rise Act should be paid, but about “when”.
In a separate statement, the authors of economic recovery bills-- Sens. Moylan, Tony Ada, and Chris Duenas-- sought to distinguish their proposals under their “Let’s Get Guam Moving” initiative from the governor's existing programs.
Increasing the payout of The Rise Act
Senators: Propose to increase the individual payout of The Rise Act from $800 to $1,000 for individuals and $1,600 to $2,000 for joint filers.
Governor: Has been avoiding discussions on when the payouts from The Rise Act will take place, and on Friday, March 12, 2021, stated that the federal Economic Impact Payment (EIP) of $1,400 will supersede The Rise Act, hence leaving the program as an unfunded mandate.
Senators: The Displaced Employees Workforce Incentive Act would create new private sector jobs through a grant program.
Governor: Continues to talk about the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program and creating unemployment insurance. No mention of creating new private sector jobs in any of her discussions, including during the State of the Island Address.
Creating new small businesses
Senators: The Business Startup Incubation Act would create NEW small businesses through a grant program.
Governor: The only mention of support for businesses was through the extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other support grants in the American Recovery Plan for existing businesses. No mention of creating new small businesses in any of her discussions, including during the State of the Island Address.
Debit card program
Senators; The Para I Publiku Act would create a $500 Debit Card which would be issued to island residents to support and infuse millions of dollars into local business establishments.
Governor: Has yet to discuss the creation of a Debit Card program, and the only option discussed to infuse monies into the local economy would be the spending of the federal EIP.
Assistance with utility payments
Senators: The Guam Home Energy Assistance Program would create a program like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which would provide a grant program for qualified families to assist with utility payments.
Governor: No mentions of assistance with utility payments. However, it should be noted that Guam received $900,000 from the LIHEAP in 2020, however none of those funds were utilized to provide utility payment assistance for qualified families.
Home rental assistance
Senators: The Atkilón Guma’ Assistance Act would create a LOCAL program to provide rental assistance for qualified families. While federal programs are welcomed, it is critical to look beyond the immediate future, when it comes to families facing evictions because of the pandemic.
Governor: While she has mentioned that the federal program does provide some housing assistance for mortgages and rentals, there have been no discussions on local programs, with favorable criteria for families on the island. Also, the only other mention on this subject matter is that the eviction notice was lifted.