$800 COVID relief bill up for vote this week

Sen. Regine Biscoe-Lee, the author of the bill, said that although the RISE Act may not have the far-reaching effect of heavily funded programs like the PUA, at least it is still something that can be offered to the island's needy. (PNC file photo)

As the CARES Act inches closer to expiration and Congress continues to stall on a new relief package, a bill from earlier this year was revisited in the Guam Legislature to try and prepare for what comes next.

Senator Regine Biscoe-Lee authored a financial relief bill that’s received bipartisan support in the Guam Legislature.

Bill 340-35, also known as the Recovery Income Support and Empowerment, or RISE Act, was originally introduced during the early days of the pandemic in April.

Although put on the backburner, the bill was reintroduced and revised in anticipation of the CARES Act’s expiration at the end of the month.

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With Congress still battling over a second pandemic relief bill, Biscoe-Lee says the RISE Act was revised to allow GovGuam the flexibility to face an uncertain future.

The bill provides a one-time payment of $800 to qualified individuals.

Originally, the bill provided for a $400 payment but the bill was amended yesterday to double the payout.

It’s total possible payout is now $30 million. But that’s a cap, not a fixed amount.

Although currently unfunded, the intent is to have a flexible program ready to go in the event that a funding source, whether local or federal, presents itself, rather than scramble to develop a program after funds have been received.

“There’s just so much that we still don’t know. There’s so much that we cannot accurately predict. So whether it’s new stimulus legislation, that are currently under negotiations in Congress, or the state of our tourism-dependent economy, or public health dangers that may be still present, that’s a big reason why we maintain the flexibility in this language, to try to have this program be rolled out when folks need it the most,” Biscoe-Lee said.

Even as it tries to anticipate more federal funds, Biscoe-Lee warned of the need to maintain a certain amount of financial feasibility after the bill was amended to double the program’s cap, from its original $15 million cap to its current limit.

Although the RISE Act may not have the far-reaching effect of heavily funded programs like PUA, it is something.

Biscoe-Lee says the program is a way a for the legislature to be proactive and do the best it can with what it has.

“We took a look at, obviously the local budget..and we took a look at the number of income tax filers, and tried to just create a universe to help the most amount of people that would need the most amount of aid. So we had to kind of look at up to a certain amount, how much we could give, and then up to a certain universe of people that could be included in this program. And so we really just tried to spread it out and do the most good possible, and that’s really kind of the compromise that was worked out with this piece of legislation,” Biscoe-Lee said.

Senator Biscoe-Lee says the bill is expected to go up for a vote on Thursday.