Congressman Michael San Nicolas, in his annual congressional address before the Legislature, praised the people of Guam for rising up to the challenge of COVID-19, saying “our people can do the impossible.”
In the face of so much uncertainty with fear, death, and the realities of COVID-19, San Nicolas said the people of Guam put their lives and the lives of their families on the line to keep our island going.
“There was no hoarding, no looting, no chaos. Lines will stretch for miles and yet they were orderly, considerate, and compassionate. And as an example to the country and to the world, our people answered the call for vaccinations so overwhelmingly that supply barely kept up with demand,” San Nicolas said.
He added: “So if there’s one thing, all of the leaders in this room, including myself, need to take away from all of this is the fact that our people can do the impossible. And if we just do our duty to make the resources they need available, and provide the services they require of us reliably, there is nothing that can hold back this island of Guam.”
During his speech, San Nicolas also highlighted the federal COVID-19 relief he helped secure for Guam as part of the House committee on financial services.
As of June of this year, San Nicolas said Guam has already received over $2.5 billion in federal pandemic relief. Of this amount, $1.8 billion was paid in the form of 95 different grants, with over $1 billion supporting over 20,000 unemployed workers mostly in the private sector.
“Also, mostly in our private sector, the pandemic unemployment assistance program was the single largest recipient of federal pandemic unemployment support. And we are one of only three jurisdictions in the entire country that had our unemployment costs 100 percent federally funded,” San Nicolas said.
The congressman also mentioned the millions of federal dollars in food aid passing through Guam’s local agencies, supporting thousands of families with commodity distributions as well as the three different federal stimulus payments over the course of the pandemic.
“Over half a billion dollars has been made available for our education system, giving our public schools, or private schools or community college, and our university critical resources to provide much-needed tuition reimbursements, enhance the safety of our learning environments, and build learning capacity with modernization tools and technology.
“In addition, millions of dollars went to reinforce the island’s health care system, both public and private as well as support our airline industry, our airport, our homeless, other agencies, our government, and others in need of housing and rental assistance,” San Nicolas said.
The congressman also announced that in just a few days, the federal government will be rolling out the enhanced Child Tax Credit secured in the American Rescue Plan.
On top of all of this, San Nicolas said there’s the $600 million allotment to the local government to deploy for pandemic recovery, with the ability to use these resources to compensate essential workers in both the public and private sector, support economic reopening, and further close gaps exacerbated by the pandemic that have existed for years.
“All of these resources have prevented our island at large, from suffering catastrophic loss, giving not only direct support into the pockets of our people, and under the tables of our families, but in the coffers of our government, which enjoyed robust federally related tax revenues in excess of $800 million, generating enough operational surplus to retire a multi-year accumulated deficit in the midst of an island shutdown and a pandemic,” San Nicolas said.
Other initiatives / updates
Support for Afghan evacuation to Guam
With the United States bringing home US troops from Afghanistan, San Nicolas said there is a need for Guam to help our Afghan allies who aren’t just our friends but have helped keep all of us safe today by helping our troops.
San Nicolas said there is a substantial breakthrough in efforts to recognize the presence and use of Agent Orange dioxin on Guam. “Today we can confirm that our language has been included in the larger Veterans Affairs Committee legislation, HR 3967,” he said.
The congressman said there has been an increase in Guam’s federal matching rates from 55% to 83%, thus saving Guam millions of dollars in health care costs and enhancing the island’s ability to provide care. “The work continues to secure our Medicaid matching and cap progress as we work on extending these enhancements into a new normal,” he said.
“We’re also able to secure full federal reimbursement for Earned Income Tax Credit, alleviating an approximate $16 million annual burden on our general fund revenues and further helping to raise our credit outlook in the midst of a pandemic. This funding is annual or ongoing, not a one-time thing. So we will see a permanent improvement in our general fund,” the congressman said.
“We are further injecting resources into the growth of our fishing industry by pursuing federal dollars to supplement locally committed funds to expand the scope, and service capacity of the Guam fishermen’s Co-Op,” San Nicolas said.
Expanded mass transit
“Your congressional office is working diligently as the national infrastructure package works its way through the Congress. The package contains specific provisions that will historically mobilize our community and economy, for our mass transit system. The Guam Regional Transit Authority will have the opportunity to exponentially grow our federally funded bus fleet,” the congressman said.
Federal highway funding
“Beyond mass transit funding, we’re looking to triple our federal highway funding in the Invest Act with specific carve-out language that will increase our federal territorial highway funding from $16.8 million a year to over $45 million a year, giving us the capacity to fix three times as many roads, three times as many potholes and improved three times as many road markings so we can actually see where lanes separate during the evening and during heavy rain conditions,” San Nicolas said.
“We’re closely coordinating the introduction of legislation to include Guam, as an eligible recipient of federal funds for Radiation Exposure Compensation Act purposes and we’re optimistic that this year will reflect more progress on the issue than ever before,” the congressman said.
In closing his speech, San Nicolas said he deliberately focused the bulk of his address on the federal resources given and made available to Guam because this is a one-time opportunity that Guam must not “screw up.”
“Our island is at an inflection point, emerging from the greatest danger our community has faced directly since World War Two. Guam is in a golden age of resources the island has not seen since the early 1990s and what we do with these resources, is going to define where we go generations from now. This is neither the time for political patronage nor is it the time to short-sightedly inflate the status quo,” San Nicolas said.
He added: “This is a one-time opportunity. We cannot get it wrong, we have to get it right.”