Residents still awaiting stimulus money as RISE Act becomes a political football
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Leon Guerrero vetoes two amendment bills; legislature positions for an override vote
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has made good on her threat to veto two bills that sought to amend the original Recovery Income Support Empowerment Act, simply known as the RISE Act, a federally-funded local stimulus program that has become a political football between Adelup and the legislature.
Slamming the legislature for "failure of leadership" and accusing the senators of encroaching on her turf, the governor vetoed Bills 75-36 and 164-36, which she said were both dotted with flaws.
Both bills sought to streamline the application process for the program by removing certain requirements such as employment certification and residency verification from the mayors' offices, which proved to be major stumbling blocks to the program's implementation.
Noting conflicts in the two bills, the governor said the legislature failed in its "'Hail Mary' efforts to cure the problems with the original act."
Bill 75-36 proposed to amend the stimulus amounts provided under the original RISE Act, raising them from $800 to $1,000 per single tax filer, and from $1,600 to $2,000 per joint filer.
Bill 164-36, however, retained the original amount provided in the original law.
"Though some among the legislature have attempted to pass off the conflict as a deliberate strategy to 'give [me] options,' the legislature is not in the general practice of presenting a governor with options in the form of conflicting bills," the governor said.
"It is clear that the authors of these bills did not even attempt to reconcile their positions and present a unified bill, a disappointing but sure sign of a failure of leadership and bold attempts to claim credit for rescuing a floundering program."
With the veto of the two bills, and supposing they won't get overridden, the governor hopes her own version of the stimulus aid, billed "ALL RISE Program," and capped at $30 million, supersedes the legislature's RISE Act.
"The ALL RISE Program not only streamlines processes for providing direct aid to the members of our community who need it the most as expeditiously and efficiently as possible, but it also expands eligibility to include those the legislature arbitrarily excluded from the RISE Act, including our government workers and retirees," the governor said.
The original RISE Act, passed by the legislature and lapsed into law without the governor's signature, identified the American Rescue Plan as the program's funding source.
However, the governor maintained that the legislature did not have the authority to appropriate federal funds.
"Though the intent behind the RISE Act was laudable, our people should not have to wait for the legislature to piecemeal-correct the issues with its attempt at a direct aid program until it finally gets it right," Leon Guerrero said.
"Our community needs relief now, and our administration will get it to them, just as we have done time and again during the entire pandemic relief effort."
But who's really holding off the distribution of the stimulus aid?
As far as the legislature is concerned, it has done its part by passing the RISE Act, which had lapsed into law since December.
In a statement last week, Speaker Therese Terlaje noted that the ARP funds have been in the government's account since May, but the administration has yet to deliver the money to those in need.
"Today, the governor said they are still working on an application after seven months and won’t release the funds until September," Terlaje said.
"It is a mockery of the real suffering and needs in our community and flagrant disregard for the truth that she held the funds this long without a legitimate reason, yet started spending it for other purposes," she added.
Sen. James Moylan, the author of Bill 75-36, said he was not surprised by the governor's veto action, but was dismayed by her rejection of the proposed increase in the stimulus amount.
"This is unfortunate coming from a governor who just flew first class and stayed at the glitzy Ritz Carlton in D.C. on the taxpayer dime," he said.
"While a $200 increase may not seem much to her, for many families it represents an additional obligation they could have paid, a needed purchase for their household, providing gifts for their children, or even experiencing a fancy family dinner celebration."
Moylan also lamented that "the governor of Guam refuses to work with the Guam Legislature on the local stimulus program."
Smarting from the governor's sermon against the legislature, Moylan said the governor could have chosen to sign either one of the two bills that mirrored the provisions in her executive order.
"It is literally that simple," Moylan said. "While I appreciate that some information has been provided on this new ALL RISE Program that she created, I do not agree with the reality that many families may not attain the benefits from the stimulus plan, as the $30 million budget remains, while the number of qualified applicants has increased."
Terlaje, in her statement last week, said she found it "ironic that the governor is alleging the motivation in passing legislation was about recognition and headlines then immediately took credit for pumping $1.2 billion into the economy when that came from the federal government.”