By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Terminating Guam's public health emergency status will not affect the island's federal welfare allocation, Sen. James Moylan said, refuting Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's claim that the senators' proposition would hurt thousands of families enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.
The 36th Guam Legislature is scheduled to vote next week on Resolution 291-36, which seeks to end the governor's public health emergency declaration for Guam. Moylan said it is a binding resolution.
Leon Guerrero last week extended the emergency declaration for yet another 30 days, warning that $2.3 million in monthly SNAP remittance was at stake should the senators pass the resolution.
She claimed 15,000 families and 45,000 children might lose access to the program.
"This is false information, and I do hope that your office not only corrects this but also advises those behind this farce to end playing these negative games and to stick with the facts," Moylan said in a letter to the governor.
"No one wants to take away the SNAP program, as it not only places food on the tables of so many households, but it also contributes to the island’s economic activity," he added.
The Republican senator also reminded Leon Guerrero that as the governor of Guam she has the authority to sign an executive order "specific to an emergency."
He noted that Hawaii Gov. David Y. Ige used that option. On March 24, Ige signed an executive order to ensure that the SNAP was not adversely affected as the state faces "an emergency with food insecurity."
Moylan urged the administration to review Ige's executive order "to assure that the SNAP funding is not paused if lawmakers do indeed end the emergency declaration.
"There is a possibility that the measure will pass since it is evidently clear that the governor of Guam can indeed sign an executive order addressing a specific emergency, such as food insecurity, the need of the National Guard, or nursing shortages, to assure that any federal funding is not jeopardized for these necessities," Moylan said.
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Resolution 291-36 was introduced by Sen. Chris Duenas, and cosponsored by fellow Republicans including Moylan, Sens. V. Anthony Ada, Frank Blas Jr. , Joanne Brown and Telo Taitague.
Last week, Taitague corrected the Progressive Democrats of Guam's earlier claim that she "privately withdrew" her support for the resolution.
"It’s premature for any senator to make a final decision on a bill or resolution as ideas require deliberation involving all senators. The focus as well should be on developing a responsible pandemic exit plan for the government of Guam which should be incorporated in the resolution as a result of the administration's lack of transparency," Taitague said in a statement.
"I am a cosponsor of Resolution 291-36 and I will continue to work with my colleagues to strengthen this proposal," she added.
Resolution 291-36 received mixed reactions during a public hearing held last week.
While several residents expressed support for the resolution, public health officials sought to justify the continued emergency status for Guam.
"It is time for Guam to finally move forward, as the rest of the world has already done so. It is time to drop the masks for the healthy members of our population. It is time to get back to a real normal, not a new normal," Sinajana resident Dave Hayner said in written testimony.
"It is time to truly welcome visitors back to Guam, not encourage them to go elsewhere out of unfounded fears, travel restrictions, masking requirements that don't work and numerous other restrictions that are crushing the livelihood and freedoms that those of us that live on and visit Guam should not be denied any longer," he added.
Debbie Satkeym, a teacher, said Guam cannot continue to live in an indefinite state of “emergency" especially when that state of emergency has been used over the past two years "to oppress and punish innocent citizens and has taken away their God-given right to make medical decisions for themselves. "
Satkeym also questioned the governor's transparency with federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
"I watched in December as Gov. Leon Guerrero, at the National Governors Association Summit, bragged to the other governors that she had discretionary power over the use of the ARP money and that the legislature was not happy," she said.
Public health officials, however, maintained that the pandemic is not over.
"At any time, resurgence is possible. It is essential that the multi-agency coordination continue as we navigate the transition from moderate to low
risk, and from pandemic to endemic status," said Dr. Annete David, chair of the State Epidemiological Workgroup for Guam.
"Already some European countries and several U.S. mainland cities are seeing an uptick in cases and hospitalizations. We need to ensure that our government sustains the ability to respond to any resurgences, and to the emergence of new variants, quickly and efficiently," she added.
Acting Health Director Terry Aguon said Covid-19 still poses a great risk to the community as the virus continues to evolve.
"Globally, since March 28, 2020, there have been 481,756,671 confirmed cases, including 6,127,981 deaths reported to the WHO. Locally, the island has seen a total of 47,181 confirmed cases and 343 deaths," Aguon said.
"In 2022, we observed our highest case rate ever in this two-year pandemic, which we suspect is the result of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, with 27,520 confirmed cases and 68 deathsreported as of March 29. Our daily hospitalization averaged 14 cases per day," he added.