By Pacific Island Times News Staff
San Nicolas: Guam must not 'screw up' this 'one-time opportunity'
Guam has received more than $2.5 billion in federal Covid relief aid as of June, Congressman Michael San Nicolas said, reminding the community that this is a “one-time opportunity” that must not be squandered.
“We cannot get it wrong, we have to get it right,” he said during his congressional address before the 36th Guam Legislature Monday.
“Guam is in a golden age of resources the island has not seen since the early 1990s and what we do with these resources, is going to define where we go generations from now. This is neither the time for political patronage nor is it the time to shortsightedly inflate the status quo,” San Nicolas added.
The federal resources made available to Guam have prevented the island from suffering catastrophic loss, he said.
San Nicolas said Guam is not likely to see "a similar confluence of circumstances" that will bring the territory's credit ratings up and increase its debt ceiling capacity as it sees today. "Which means," he added, "the people in this room, to include myself, if we screw this up, we screw it up permanently."
Besides the cold cash that went straight to the people’s pockets and put food on families’ tables, San Nicolas said the government has enjoyed robust federally related tax revenues that amounted to more than $800 million.
These tax revenues generated enough operational surplus to retire a multi-year accumulated deficit amid the pandemic that prompted the shutdown, he added.
Listing the federal grants Guam has received, San Nicolas said of the total amount infused into Guam's economy, $1.8 billion was awarded to the territory in the form of 95 different grants. More than $1 billion supported over 20,000 unemployed workers mostly in the private sector.
San Nicolas noted that among the U.S. territories, Guam was the single largest recipient of federal pandemic unemployment support. Guam was one of only three jurisdictions in the entire country that had their unemployment costs 100 percent federally funded, he added.
“Over half a billion dollars has been made available for our education system, giving our public schools, or private schools or community college, and our university critical resources to provide much-needed tuition reimbursements, enhance the safety of our learning environments, and build learning capacity with modernization tools and technology,” San Nicolas said.
“In addition, millions of dollars went to reinforce the island’s health care system, both public and private as well as support our airline industry, our airport, our homeless, other agencies, our government, and others in need of housing and rental assistance,” San Nicolas said.
In the next couple of days, the federal government will implement the enhanced Child Tax Credit authorized by the American Rescue Plan.
Guam also stands to receive $60 million to cover the earned income tax credits, a previously unfunded federal mandate. “This will fill the gap between cash and appropriations,” he said.
The government of Guam has received a $600 million allotment for pandemic recovery, which it can use to compensate essential workers in the public and private sector and support economic reopening.
In a statement following San Nicolas’ address, Sen. James Moylan said he agreed that “the work is far from over.”
“Congressman San Nicolas echoed statements which I too have been expressing about the latest round of federal dollars through the American Rescue Plan, which is that we need to spend the funds in a manner which would infuse our economy, such as the Let’s Get Guam Moving initiatives our office introduced in March, along with Senators Tony Ada and Chris Duenas,” Moylan said.
“These funds should not be prioritized for creating new permanent government jobs or entities which will become future general fund obligations. Instead, a thorough plan is needed which is inclusive of the legislature's input. As the Congressman expressed, another relief package is not in discussions, so let us approach this logically and non-politically to assure that the community is the true benefactor.”