The road toward paying out more than 34,000 direct economic aid payments to Guam residents under the All RISE program was paved with controversy and glitches.
There were months of back-and-forth between senators and the governor's office about how to best distribute $30 million in federal funds straight into the hands of Guam residents who need help as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were debates about what amount each qualified individual or couple should receive, given that there was more than $500 million from the federal government that could be tapped into.
Ultimately, what started out in the Guam Legislature as the Recovery Income and Support Empowerment or RISE Act, which became law in December, got tweaked when it reached the governor's office, which renamed the effort into the All RISE program.
There were discussions about whether the $30 million would be enough – as the program initially was meant for displaced private-sector workers but was expanded by the governor to include GovGuam and federal workers and public sector retirees.
After some changes, the amount each qualified island resident or couple would receive was finalized: $800 for individuals and $1,600 for couples who filed joint income tax returns. The eligibility is limited to individuals who earned no more than $40,000 in adjusted gross income in 2020 and couples who earned $80,000 or less.
There were some kinks along the way before the program opened for applications. Initially, as part of the vetting process, applicants were asked to get a mayor's verification of residency. This flooded the mayors with such requests at a challenging time for the mayors who didn't want people crowding in this pandemic. This residency paperwork requirement was later scrapped after Rev and Tax and the mayors figured out a way to coordinate internally.
Finally, the procedure to apply for this direct economic aid was simplified.
When the application period opened on Sept. 1, after what seemed like a long wait for many who needed the money, Rev and Tax was flooded with thousands upon thousands of applications filed online or dropped off in the drive-thru or by walk-ins.
Many people in dire need of cash stood for hours to be early to file because the process was on a first-filed, first-paid basis.
There was a military veteran with an amputated leg who slept in his vehicle to make sure his application got in early. There was a woman, more than 90 years old, who stood in line among the hundreds on day one who wanted their applications filed in person.
On Wednesday, the program's application period ended.
In less than two weeks:
• 18,236 payments totaling $19.49 million were processed by Rev and Tax under Director Dafne Mansapit-Shimizu. The Department of Administration under Edward Birn was cranking out payments by issuing paper checks or electronically depositing the majority of the payments for taxpayers who opted for direct deposit.
• 34,798 applications were received as of about 7 p.m. Monday. Of the total, 26,375, or about 76%, of applications were filed online. The online filing system had issues handling the massive demand from online filers in the first several hours but they seemed to have been smoothed out as the days went by.
Applicants who were included in the Sept. 10 processing cutoff can expect to receive their All RISE payments as early as this week either in the mail or as a direct deposit in their bank accounts.
Now, one of the next steps for Rev and Tax is to sort out thousands of applications that had errors. Approximately 18% of applications were identified as having errors, according to the department.
This program was a logistically challenging task from an execution standpoint and from the standpoint of those in the Legislature and Adelup who had some differences.
In the end, what matters is that the money gets into the hands of the tens of thousands of people in need. The timing, with the jobless benefits ending, couldn't have been more on point.
To the governor, senators, bureaucrats and workers in GovGuam who made this happen without further ado – thank you. And a big thank you goes to Congress and the Biden administration for the generous flow of pandemic dollars to Guam.