Lawmakers moved forward a bill that would give many residents direct cash relief, after doubling the potential benefit during session Monday afternoon.
“We can see the writing on the wall: unemployment benefits, which have saved tens of thousands of workers from financial disaster, may not be as robust as it is today. Our neediest people will need another round of assistance this year, likely within the next few months,” said bill sponsor Régine Biscoe Lee.
Bill 340 would create the “Recovery Income Support and Empowerment” program. It originally would have authorized the government to pay $400 to individual tax filers whose adjusted gross income is $40,000 or less, or $800 to joint filers whose income is $80,000 or less.
After an amendment proposed by Sen. Therese Terlaje, who pointed out that $400 won’t cover any residents’ rent, the bill now authorizes the government to pay up to $800 to individual tax filers, or up to $1,600 to joint filers.
The bill would appropriate up to $30 million for the relief payments, either from future federal pandemic relief for the island or using local revenue.
Government of Guam and federal employees, who have been paid during the pandemic, wouldn’t qualify. The new language would require that retirees, in order to be eligible, were not employed federally or with GovGuam at any point in 2020, according to the bill’s updated language.
More:Lawmakers consider giving more pandemic cash to residents — except government workers
If approved, the Department of Revenue and Taxation won’t be ready to implement the program until mid- to late February, Dafne Shimizu, the agency’s director, told lawmakers last week. The application process likely would be online, similar to other local assistance programs, she said.
Bureau of Budget and Management Research Director Lester Carlson last week said all of this year’s federal CARES Act money for Guam has been or will be spent by the Dec. 30 deadline, so none of that money will be available for the program.
The bill was moved to the voting file.
That’s not enough money to cover every eligible person on Guam, Lee said, so government employees should be excluded so total payments are limited to about 30,000 filers. Lee said couples who file jointly would receive $400 instead of $800 if one of the spouses works for the government.
CSC bill set aside
A bill that would change some Civil Service Commission procedures was once again set aside after a morning of debate.
Sen. Mary Torres’ Bill 312 was set aside during last month’s session as well. The bill would support the Civil Service Commission in its mission to “promote and protect the merit selection process in the hiring of employees for the government of Guam.” Among other provisions, it would implement a six-month statute of limitations to submit a complaint about an employee’s qualifications for a position.
Many senators didn’t agree with bill, stating there should be no limit on removing an employee not validly qualified for a job.