By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) The Guam Legislature is going into session at 10 a.m., Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Kandit will be covering the session live.
Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, who summoned senators to this emergency session, has not provided an agenda of exactly what senators will discuss in this session. According to legislative sources, most senators are out of the loop as well.
Ms. Muna Barnes, however, has drafted legislation that will commit to tax refunds the $11 million reimbursable to the government of Guam for payments the local government already made to war claims recipients.
"It is our goal to use the remaining funds anticipated to be reimbursed to the Government of Guam to address immediate needs of our residents by authorizing you to fund the immediate payments of tax refunds," Ms. Muna Barnes wrote in a letter to the governor, which was joined by the co-authors of her tax refunds bill, Sens. Clynt Ridgell and Jim Moylan.
Mr. Moylan also has drafted legislation he wants the Legislature to approve to respond to the pandemic emergency. Among his proposals are the rollback of the business privilege tax, a cut to the liquid fuel tax, and a larger threshold for more small businesses to be exempt from the BPT.
Sen. Telo Taitague, the Republican leader, led the introduction of legislation on tax cuts, tax exemptions on medication, medical supplies, and medical equipment, and the flow of cash toward tax refunds.
Meanwhile, the legislation having the biggest impact on families - direct cash assistance and the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance program - aren't locally provided at all. The U.S Congress this week passed $2.2 trillion in new money that will provide thousands of dollars to each qualifying family in Guam in direct cash assistance, and nearly $1,000 a week per unemployed or otherwise furloughed worker in Guam.
The catch, or the chokehold if you will, is that the government of Guam needs to stand up the local side of these two programs by enacting policies that allow for memoranda of understanding between the local government and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the U.S. Department of Labor.
Congressman Michael San Nicolas, who was instrumental in the inclusion of the territories in the federal disaster programs the President just signed into law, clarified that the Guam Legislature also has a role to play in releasing the chokehold on that federal money, at least to get federal paychecks to the unemployed on Guam, and cash assistance to the qualified.
We asked the congressman, "Understanding that the two biggest programs for families (cash assistance and PUI) are dependent on local government action with the federal government - is there a timeline that can be constructed for how quickly these programs can issue assistance to Guam qualified beneficiaries?"
He responded: "Local law can establish that. I am working with Senator Therese Terlaje hoping she can have something in for the special session next week."
This money is riding on local government action. Today Kandit emailed all fifteen senators the following questions; we have yet to receive responses:
Will the speaker's tax refund bill be placed on the agenda?
Who among you support this measure?
Will Sen. Therese Terlaje's quarantine bill be placed on the agenda?
Who among you support that measure?
Will Sens. Moylan and Taitague's economic relief measures be placed on the agenda?
Who among you support these measures?
Will any of you introduce or co-sponsor legislation removing any local impediments to an MOU between DRT & U.S. Treasury that is needed in order for residents to avail of the new cash assistance program? Have any of you already identified those impediments, or otherwise identified what local statute (if any) is required to get this program going here?
Will any of you introduce or co-sponsor the legislation authorizing/funding/creating the local protocol/program needed to avail of the new federal Pandemic Unemployment Insurance program?
Will any of you introduce or co-sponsor legislation addressing the worry and anxiety of people at risk of car loan default and repossession?
Will any of you introduce or co-sponsor legislation authorizing the payment (and retroactive payment) of the standard emergency rate pay (double pay) of government employees involved in the emergency response?