Oversight chair on health addresses public health concerns in 2021 budget

Speaker Therese Terlaje (PNC file photo)

After months of hearings and weeks of budget discussions, the FY 2021 budget passed with a vote of 13 – 2. Senator Therese Terlaje, the Oversight Chair for the Committee on Health, Tourism, Historic Preservation, Land and Justice, voted in favor of Bill 282-35 as substituted by the Committee on Appropriations.

“We should all be horrified that Public Health was not the priority of the original bill in the middle of a pandemic. A $66 million cut across the board would definitely impact services provided by the government of Guam, but it should not have been on the back of the very department that we must trust to get the island through this public health emergency, take care of our residents, reopen our schools and businesses safely and bring back our tourists,” Terlaje stated in a news release.

“We tried our best to support the projections of the Office of Finance and Budget, with or without the cooperation of the administration, but the bill in its original form would have left the Department of Public Health and Social Services budget with a $13 M shortfall in operations and short on the local match to ensure Guam accessed the full availability for Medicaid insurance,” said Terlaje.

“Through our amendments, we fully funded the Medicaid local match according to DPHSS testimony and restored approximately $1.4 M to DPHSS operations. We removed all earmarks from other Public Health funds except Medicaid allowing them flexibility and leaving them overall a total of only $2.1 M less than FY20,” stated the Health Committee Chair.

The Senator attempted to dedicate an additional $6M for DPHSS operations through quarterly excesses in withholding and corporate revenues, but ultimately that failed, noting that additional funding sources will be sought through the rest of the term and faith will have to be placed in the Governor to utilize federal funding and her 15% transfer authority of approximately $27M to shore up $11M in public health operations during the emergency.

The Oversight Chair also noted that GMH will be receiving $750,000 more than in FY20 to improve patient care and safety, that it is authorized to hire nurses and respiratory therapists without limitation, and that it will be paid 2.8 million for services provided to DOC.

Senator Terlaje stressed that Public Health must succeed in FY21 as the safety net when all other possibilities have failed: in rapid tracing and isolating the COVID virus, in inspections and guidelines for the safe opening of businesses in our new economy, providing childcare so parents can work, safe guidelines for schools, the prevention of cancer and diabetes that are killing our people too early, expanded community health centers and health insurance, and food for families who have lost their income.

In closing, Senator Terlaje stated, “For Public Health and all agencies to succeed despite the cuts, we must wisely use the transparency and flexibility tools provided to us by this bill, as a legislature and as a government, to act swiftly and focused and to work together for all of our community who are counting on us.”

Other amendments Senator Terlaje incorporated into the budget include:

Prioritized the Guam Memorial Hospital and Fought for DPHSS Operations

· Funded and support for the hiring of nurses, public health personnel, respiratory therapists, contact tracers and investigators along with other health professionals for frontline agencies with required reporting for accountability

· Authorization for DPHSS to utilize all unexpended balances

· Removed restrictions on funding MIP and carried forward lapses for MIP and Medicaid to ensure maximum access to federal match

· Gave transfer authority to DPHSS, providing flexibility to address shortfalls as needed

· Prioritized DPHSS for any excess revenue from the Healthy Futures Fund

· No cuts to GMH Operations from FY20

· Ensured the payment to GMH for health services provided to DOC

· Supported a fee study allowing for the alignment of GMH rates and fees with Medicare rates

· Carried over the appropriation of $10 million for the GMHA Capital Improvement Fund which remains unpaid from FY2020

Alignment of Judicial Agencies and Protection of Funding Sources

· Supported access to qualified and experienced attorneys for the Judicial Branch

· Carried forward lapses for indigent defense to ensure full funding for Public Defender Service Corporation and Alternate Public Defender

· Protected the Victim/Witness Housing/Travel Fund

Accountability Measures for the Government of Guam

· Supported the public vetting of exemption to the ban on hiring a lobbyist

· Ensured public scrutiny of bond refinancing

· Mandated the reporting of payments toward prior year obligations for increased transparency

· Narrowed authorized travel adding accountability measures

· Pushed for progress past the planning stage by appropriating funds for the construction phase of Simon Sanchez High School

Support and Protection for Land and Historic Preservation

· Provided CLTC access to legal services for non-litigation and land registration matters

· Protections for CLTC Survey and Infrastructure Fund

· Appropriated excess Tourist Attraction Fund revenue to DPR for the maintenance of restroom facilities, public parks, cultural sites, and the Guam Historic Resources Division

Rebuilding Tourism

· Lump-sum funding and the carry forward of lapses for greater flexibility for GVB

· Aligned public law for GVB procurement to correct audit deficiencies

· Protects GVB’s access to Tourist Attraction Funds at the end of the Fiscal Year

(Sen. Therese Terlaje News Release)