Taking the spotlight at the U.S. House Natural Resources committee roundtable this morning was a resounding call for governments in the territories to be transparent.
Guam is one of five U.S. territories that participated in the roundtable to discuss how Congress can address serious problems with the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 in the CNMI, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam.
Like Guam, other territories also share concerns about how federal COVID-19 assistance is intended to be spent versus how local governments will actually spend it.
Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas asked the committee to take on an oversight role for spending federal dollars, stating its important to get the spending right now to be able to avail of them in the future. The congressman criticized Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero for what he said was her lack of transparency.
“We have a problem back on Guam, Mr. Chairman, there is a transparency issue. The Governor is not being responsive even to local lawmakers. It’s even been publicly stated by the Governor that she does not need to answer to local lawmakers with respect to how she’s spending these federal dollars and they’re at a point now where media is having to use Freedom of Information Act requests in order to get basic answers,” San Nicolas said.
And it appears that the House Natural Resources may very well look into how the money is spent as Committee Chair Raul Grijalva stressed the importance of accountability.
“We need to hold people accountable as to how the money is spent because it’s for the greater public good that the intention of this money was. It wasn’t met as a supplement to what a local budget should be doing. It was meant to take care of those immediate relief needs before we even talk about recovery,” Grijalva said.
He added: “If it isn’t being used to build up capacity and if it’s not being used to test the maximum amount of people as possible in order to get a good reading on when and how we introduce stability and normalcy…then it’s not being used correctly and it’s not being used right…that’s a responsibility that I take seriously.”
Calls for medical supplies, equal Social Security Insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare benefits were also made as the territories pointed out that these pre-existing challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The discussions were part of the Natural Resources Committee roundtable on federal coronavirus response in U.S. Territories.