On one hand, we're glad that Sen. Clynton Ridgell has put a spotlight on a persistent Guam problem: Poverty. Ridgell is with the Guam Legislature's Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture, Maritime Transportation, Power and Energy Utilities, and Emergency Response, so this is right up his alley. He can really make a difference on this issue.
He could use his position to work toward providing more skills training opportunities for many of our island residents who do want jobs but don't have the skills to fill jobs that are available. He could rally island residents to organize community gardens and work toward self-sustenance. He could help shape Guam's public assistance policies so there will be more incentives for island residents to get off generations of reliance on welfare. He could do something as simple as helping establish a legal slaughterhouse so people have a way to raise livestock for extra income and feed their families. He could find ways to help struggling families get a temporary lifeline on rent, power, water and phone expenses on condition they actively are trying to get skills training to get a job or a better-paying job. He could propose legislation to help provide job seekers and new workers transportation support so they'd get to their jobs on time. He could advocate for a rollback of the gross receipts tax increase, which has increased the cost of consumer goods to the detriment of those who have limited, fixed income.
There are many other ways he could truly positively impact the lives of thousands of families on Guam whose households have no incomes or have incomes below the poverty line.
Yet, in a press release Tuesday, Ridgell's idea of addressing poverty is to cite information from a years-old report on the military buildup. “While the military buildup is being touted for its economic benefits, the truth is even (the Department of Defense) admits that the buildup could increase the cost of living, hurt low-income families, increase poverty, increase homelessness and increase crime. These are not my assumptions—these are the military’s own findings as stated in the various studies they were required to publish as part of the National Environmental Policy Act.”
He cites the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the military buildup that “Lower-income people are more likely to slip into poverty under economic distress. Low-income people are more financially vulnerable because they have fewer resources to support them in difficult economic times. The possible combination of higher costs of goods and services with higher housing costs would likely affect low-income people while those with many resources may thrive economically due to enhanced business opportunities. Stressful economic circumstances may push people on the verge of poverty into poverty or even homelessness.”
What he did not include were many parts in the same report that mention the increased tax collections for the government of Guam, the thousands of jobs that would be added to the local economy and the estimated increase in payroll income by more than $200 million a year – when the buildup goes into full swing.
Ridgell added: “While the buildup may benefit some, everyone needs to know that the buildup may not benefit all. The people of Guam need to know that DOD’s own findings suggest that the buildup could raise the cost of living, increase crime and harm low-income families—most of whom will not be hired for jobs in the construction industry or military-civilian positions,” Ridgell's press release states.
As with anything, economic upliftment is not guaranteed for all. It never is and never will be in a democracy.
Economic improvement, including by families in poverty, can be achieved by one's good old hard work and the attitude of not giving up and not resorting to excuses.
Let's help to provide opportunities to people and households who are struggling to get by.
Resiliency is one of our traits as island residents who are used to getting our houses knocked down in a supertyphoon or our paychecks taken away by an economic recession.
Let's build on our resiliency. Let's offer ways to arm people with job skills and support those in the private sector who are bold enough to start their own businesses so they can hire more of our local residents.
The real problem-solving stuff is hard but not impossible.