Guam could get $2.68 billion under House bill, but Senate passage in doubt

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Congress held a hearing today addressing the denial of voting rights in U.S. territories.

Guam could be receiving a multi-billion-dollar payout from the federal government under a second iteration of the CARES Act that is now set to pass the House of Representatives.

According to Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas, there’s a lot of money carved out for the territories but it all hinges on the bill passing the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

San Nicolas hosted an online meeting Wednesday morning to tackle HR 6800, also known as the Heroes Act.

If passed, the relief bill would see some $3 trillion in additional funding of which Guam is currently slated to receive some $2.68 billion to use at the government’s discretion to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the island.

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“Now this money is going to be used to respond to, mitigate and cover the costs, or replace foregone revenues, not projected on January 2020, stemming from the Public Health Emergency or its impacts with regards to the Coronavirus Disease. The budget of the government of Guam is not even $1 billion. So, we’re looking at 2.5 times more than the entire budget of the Government of Guam,” San Nicolas said.

Among the list of benefits that second CARES Act would provide include the following:

  • An extension of Economic Impact Payments, that’s the $1200 one-time payment Guam is now receiving;
  • A tenant-based rental assistance program that helps both the renters and the rental-property owners with their respective payments, taxes, and bills;
  • An extension to the unemployment support program to see that $600 FPUC top-up doled out until January of next year (right now it’s scheduled to end July 31st), and;
  • It will also provide support for veterans and subsidize health insurance for those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

A big part of the bill is the HEROES Fund, which bumps pay for essential workers.

“Employers who apply for and receive grants, will pay employees $13/hour premium pay, on top of their regular wages,” San Nicolas said.

That would be for a maximum of $10,000 for each employee. There are 33 categories that are listed under the essential worker classification part of the bill who will be eligible to receive that additional “HERO” pay.

Another huge funding line, particularly for Guam, is access to a $1 billion grant to build up hospitals.

“So this is a very significant sum because it could potentially solve a legacy problem that we’ve been having with the capital structure of our Guam Memorial Hospital,” San Nicolas said.

And the congressman says GovGuam can get creative with how to use the $2.68 billion in federal dollars.

“We can’t do an outright tax holiday on BPT… but what we can do is a BPT rebate … to support businesses that are being adversely impacted by the coronavirus economically… we can do a property tax rebate for property owners,” he said.

San Nicolas, however, is encouraging more legislative oversight of Adelup to include the Public Auditor and the Attorney General getting involved in how Guam is spending those dollars.

“This is our opportunity to showcase when we’re finally given full inclusion, that we’re going to be as much of a model example as we possibly can,” San Nicolas said.

Here’s the big variable in all this, the bill was created in the Democrat-dominated US House where it’s expected to pass in a vote later this week. But it’s the Republican-controlled US Senate where this bill could die.

“By the end of the week, we’ll know where the Senate is standing…and we’ll know what may or may not clear their hurdles. It could be as quickly as two weeks, it could be a couple of months…and truth of the matter is, there’s a possibility that is might not happen at all,” San Nicolas said.

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