$800 per individual COVID relief bill questioned

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(PNC file photo)

The local pandemic relief bill, known as the Recovery Income Support and Empowerment (or RISE Act) was passed by the Legislature Thursday night.

While praised for its goal of providing financial relief for the island, the details have left some in the community with questions. And in an interview with NewsTalk K57’s Patti Arroyo, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero hinted that the Legislature may be going beyond its jurisdiction.

Bill 340 was passed unanimously by all 14 senators present at the Legislature Thursday night. Senator Telena Nelson was on excused absence.

The bill aims to provide a one-time payment of $800 to qualifying individuals whose adjusted gross income does not exceed $40,000 per year.

However, that won’t happen anytime soon since the program is unfunded.

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The bill’s author, Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee, says that the program is forward-looking and is intended to put a flexible program in place that can use various funding sources, whether local or federal, that’s available.

The bill, however, prioritizes federal funding and this is the part that has left some people scratching their heads.

Although the bill has been almost universally lauded for being well-intentioned, some have said the Legislature is overstepping its bounds since traditionally, emergency federal funds are controlled by the governor and not the legislature.

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero pointed out the limits of the Legislature’s jurisdiction when speaking with Newstalk K57’s Patti Arroyo on Wednesday.

“The coronavirus funds that come to our government are not funds that are under the jurisdiction of appropriation for the senators. And they know this. If they’re going to do a bill that would allow that … that would mandate that … they would have to find a source of funding that they can appropriate,” Leon Guerrero said.

She also said that federal pandemic funds that the island received are already being directed by her to help the people of Guam.

Senator Biscoe-Lee’s office responded by acknowledging that the governor ultimately has the authority to direct federal pandemic funds but said the RISE Act gives her an option on how to spend federal funds and standing up the program through statute before those funds come in helps expedite the payment process.

Senator Biscoe-Lee said as much when she spoke with Patti Arroyo Friday morning.

“We’re all looking forward to another relief bill coming out of Congress and we wanted to just make sure that once we do receive that, we’re not waiting on eligibility requirements and we’re not waiting on an application process. We’ve already got all of that lined up because of the RISE Act bill. We already know who’s going to be eligible, who won’t be, and it’ll just be easier for us to get the money or the aid into the hands of the people who need it the most. And that’s really the crux of RISE,” the senator said.

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