On Sunday evening, the governor's office issued a press release announcing the lifting of the requirement for island residents to show proof of residency from their village mayor as part of the application process for pandemic cash aid authorized under the Recovery Income Support and Empowerment Act, or RISE Act.
This law could put one-time pandemic cash assistance into the pockets of island residents whose adjusted gross income last tax filing year did not exceed $40,000 for a single resident, or $80,000 for a couple.
On one hand, it's good that the government of Guam has done away with requiring residents to show proof they are registered in their village. Instead of requiring a piece of paper, the Department of Revenue and Taxation will be calling the mayors' offices to verify the aid program applicants' residency.
We do agree that applicants should be vetted to verify they live in the village they claim. But we also welcome the change that eliminates the need to take a trip to their mayor's office and wait, often in a long line depending on the size of the village, to get this one-page document.
Prior to the removal of the proof of residency requirement, Rev and Tax also simplified the requirement by deciding to accept a previously issued verification as long as it wasn't too dated.
And on Sunday, the governor's office, under the watch of acting Gov. Joshua Tenorio, issued a press release that the requirement was not needed after all.
Residents have sought verification of residency for weeks
Three weeks have passed since island residents in the more populated villages of Dededo, Yigo and Tamuning took time to go to their mayors' office, fill out a form and wait (in sometimes crowded conditions, during a pandemic) to get that piece of paper showing their village of residency.
And the RISE Act application process hasn't even opened yet.
Residents must also apply for the cash aid authorized by the RISE Act, which the governor relabeled as the All RISE Program after including GovGuam employees and retirees. It doesn’t get paid automatically, unlike the Economic Impact Payment programs’ process, according to guidance previously released by Rev and Tax.
The first version of the RISE Act aid program excluded government workers and focused on private-sector workers – many of whom lost their jobs in the pandemic or took pay cuts. The idea was to help only the private sector workforce because the entire GovGuam labor force did not have to take pay cuts or go through furloughs. Many in GovGuam's payroll still got paid while at home for months during the pandemic. And for some pay periods last year, power and water agency employees got double pay, costing millions of dollars.
The government of Guam has capped the All RISE program at $30 million so the amount each qualified resident can get will vary depending on how many will apply and qualify. The previous estimates have ranged from around $500 to $800 per person.
For the many who have taken their time to get a document that will no longer be required, that's time - and risk of COVID-19 exposure among a crowd - they can no longer get back.
There must be a way for residents who have already taken the time to get this document over the past three weeks to be the first to be considered for the cash aid payment - if all of their other documentation/requisite information checks out.
It's good that the requirement has been lifted. But it also serves as a reminder that GovGuam does need better foresight when it comes to decisions that make the wheels of bureaucracy even squeakier.