By Nancy I. Maanao
(Tumon, Guam) Sen. Jim Moylan is preparing legislation to front local money that will pay for federal unemployment paychecks now, rather than waiting more than a month for the federal money to come in.
In a letter to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero today, Mr. Moylan informs her of this opportunity and asks for her support in developing a program similar to the local war claims program. The mechanism will require the Guam Department of Labor to enter into an agreement with the federal government to have unemployed workers on Guam assign their unemployment benefits to GovGuam in exchange for the government footing the weekly bill for these benefits.
Mr. Moylan is concerned that many families do not have the savings to afford basic necessities for much longer after hearing news that federal unemployment money will not reach Guam for weeks.
Ms. Leon Guerrero's administration continues to send mixed messages on the implementation of both the federal unemployment and direct cash assistance programs. Nearly three weeks ago she promised residents the unemployment assistance would be ready within two weeks. A few days later her administration revised the timetable to within three to four weeks. The latest estimate is more than a month from now.
Congressman Michael San Nicolas has been warning the Leon Guerrero administration to understand the law better and to navigate local implementation carefully and speedily. The governor has been ignoring Mr. San Nicolas's calls for prudence.
Meanwhile, legislation unanimously passed by senators setting a timetable for the local government to enact its procedures and requiring transparency and accountability for these actions still is sitting on Ms. Leon Guerrero's desk for signature. Bill No. 333-35 by Sen. Therese Terlaje was passed by senators early last week.
The following is the text of the letter Mr. Moylan sent to the governor today:
"It was heartbreaking to read a story in a local publication this morning, which indicated that the benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program may not reach our shores for at least another month, if not even longer. What is devastating is that thousands of island residents, who have either lost their jobs or attained reduced hours at work due to this pandemic, will have to face additional weeks while trying to figure out how to place food on their families’ tables or address other obligations. It is paramount that the local government addresses this problem immediately, and from our understanding, the government of Guam has received an initial deposit from the federal CARES Act, thus there are some monies readily available.
"Our office has drafted a measure which closely mirrors how the local government addressed the war claims payments earlier in the year. Basically it would allow for the fronting of the monies to qualified recipients locally, and via a Memorandum of Understanding between the government of Guam and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, once the initial PUA funds for Guam are made available, that the federal government would reimburse the initial weeks (or a month) payment of the benefit to the local government instead of the recipient. This would eventually balance off the financial scale and assure that not only these displaced individuals receive some monies up front, but that the government attains the reimbursement as well.
"Since your office was able to work with federal counterparts on Bill 181 (the War Claims measure), I am optimistic that the relationships are in place to work on a similar arrangement for the PUA program. I plan on reaching out to Speaker Tina Muña-Barnes to finalize the draft on this local program and will proceed with the measure once we receive the commitment from your office that not only is the support available, but the mechanisms as well. Likewise, we are confident that once we attain the support, that I can work with my colleagues on expeditiously moving the measure along. But time is of the essence, and we hope to hear back from your office at the earliest, so that this process can be furthered.
"Thousands of island residents are struggling as we speak, and while providing public assistance is a decent start, there are many other necessities and obligations that these families have to endure, thus the need for a monetary compensation. Plus, it was also noted in the media that the economic stimulus funds may also not be making its way to our island for another few weeks. This is why the legislative branch needs to immediately work collectively with your office and federal counterparts in assuring that we have a temporary local program in place for our struggling residents. It is critical that partisanship be put aside, hence I hope to hear from your office at the earliest so we can initiate the process. I am also open to a conversation with you if that works for you. Thank you very much, please be safe and God Bless You."