A group of high-level GovGuam directors spent Thursday morning updating senators on the island’s response to COVID-19, but it wasn’t quite the two-way dialogue lawmakers were hoping for.
Lawmakers said GovGuam executives were showing up with the presentations a few weeks too late, and that they would have wanted to hear this information some time ago.
Senators were told that Guam has in its coffers around $560 million from the CARES Act so far. That’s out of an anticipated $1.3 billion, which includes stimulus money and unemployment dollars.
The Governor’s Acting Chief of Staff, Jon Junior Calvo, managed the meeting on the side of the administration, calling on each department director to appear on camera to present in the online meeting.
All the directors called upon were answering specific inquiries made by Speaker Tina Muna Barnes in advance. The Speaker called this meeting as the first in a series that she hopes will bring the two branches to “collaborate on a path forward.”
But unlike other virtual updates called by senators over the past two weeks, attending lawmakers were not permitted to ask questions during the live presentation.
Instead, the Speaker asked that they submit their questions to her office, which will then send them over to Adelup for detailed responses.
Among the list of topics directors presented on were Guam’s quarantine procedures, how federal dollars are currently being spent, Guam’s one-time stimulus checks, and the unemployment program.
Ricky Hernandez, the deputy administrator of GEDA, updated lawmakers on the $20 million allotted from the island’s CARES Act funding for small businesses.
“We have been in constant discussion on crafting a plan that provides for funds…they’ll be grants, not loans… to small businesses. So, the details of the small business grant program are expected to be released early next week. And, it’ll be an online application process,” Hernandez said.
He added: “We received requests from the business community, to prioritize those small businesses which have not received any funds from the Paycheck Protection Program…as well as the Economic Disaster Injury Loan program grants”
Lester Carlson, the director of BBMR, was also a presenter and gave an outlook on Guam’s economic recovery.
“Bottomline is, for fiscal 2020, I’m again cautiously optimistic about how the federal stimulus money will help to mitigate some of our overall shortfalls, both in the general fund and special funds. It’s too early to tell what 2021 is going to bring. If there’s no meaningful resumption of tourism, then, we really can’t begin to adopt revenue levels that have some tourism direct and indirect impact,” Carlson said.
Several senators noted they would have preferred being able to ask questions in real-time during the meeting and that they wish they had all this information a few weeks ago when questions about the government’s transparency began arising.