Legislation filed to pay war claims using local funds; Bill to be tackled in August session, but no word yet on source of funds

Speaker Tina Muna Barnes and Sen. Wil Castro hold a press conference on local funding for Guam war claims. (PNC file photo)

Legislation has been filed by the Speaker’s Office to get World War II claims paid out locally.

Bill 181-35, introduced by Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, would establish the 75th Guam War Claims Fund that will be administered by the Department of Administration — a fund that anticipates a $7.5 million transfer out of the general fund as authorized by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.

However, where the $7.5 million will be pulled from has yet to be identified with the Speaker, co-sponsor Sen. Wil Castro and Adelup Chief of Staff Tony Babauta deferring to legislative appropriations committee chairman Joe San S. Agustin and asking him to work closely with the administration and its fiscal team in identifying the source of the funding.

“I can only defer to the wisdom of chairman San Agustin and the Speaker had a conversation with him. But I’m pretty confident that chairman San Agustin will guide us forward. And if that’s what the governor wants to do with her transfer authority then we’d like to authorize that,” Castro said.

He added: “I know that the governor will be working closely with her fiscal team to identify that funding source and I know that in our efforts of working closely with everybody that the resources will be identified and they will be able to provide this award. In the simplest of terms, it’s a transfer authority.”

For her part, Speaker Barnes expressed her confidence in the ability of the administration to identify the funding source as soon as mid-August’s session, which is when she says the bill will be introduced for a legislative vote.

As written in the Speaker’s measure, the $7.5 million funding would cover the first 754 awarded claims.

In order to get the list of claimants who have been approved for war reparations, a Memorandum of Agreement between the Leon Guerrero – Tenorio Administration and the U.S. Department of Treasury must be finalized.

“The claimants would have to consent with the Treasury that they authorize the information to be released to the government,” the Speaker said.

Bill 181-35 is intended to move parallel to Congressman Michael San Nicolas’ efforts in Washington through his H.R. 1365.

Both the Speaker and Sen. Castro said that should the congressman’s bill pass before the local effort, then Bill 181-35 will be rendered moot. But they said the necessity for both the national and local efforts to continue alongside each other, to finally get war claims paid out, remains the underlying premise of Bill 181’s introduction.

“There is no federal and there is no local lane in this initiative, in this advocacy for paying out war claims for what the Speaker categorizes, and I concur with, as the greatest generation. There is no line when it comes to justice for our people,” Castro said.