For at least a couple of days, thousands of Guam residents who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program and the cash portion of their welfare benefits couldn't access these lifelines.
The electrical fire at the Department of Public Health and Social Services the night Tropical Storm Kammuri passed hampered the department's ability to request the timely processing of these benefits so that those who rely on the program can get food to eat and cash for essentials on time.
The far-reaching impact of the fire was released to the public bit by bit. As the information came out, it exposed Public Health's lack of an effective backup system to ensure important records that affect the health and welfare of many aren't compromised in the event of an emergency.
On Nov. 26, fire broke out at Public Heath's main building in Mangilao.
On Nov. 27, the governor's office announced a declaration of emergency that sparsely described the need to find office space for DPHSS and allow the department to utilize up to $250,000 from the government of Guam's main purse – General Fund – for needs associated with the relocation.
Nothing was said specifically about what – and how – services would be affected at the time.
Marriage, death, birth records
On Nov. 28, a new update was shared. The Office of Vital Statistics could issue only 2019 documents and the application and issuance of documents were being moved. The site to apply for marriage, birth, and death records had to be relocated.
The Office of Vital Statistics is now temporarily located in the DPHSS Division of Senior Citizens in Castle Mall at 130 University Lane, which is the road leading to the University of Guam in Mangilao.
Authorizations for Medicaid, MIP
Authorizations related to the Medicaid and Medically Indigent programs are temporarily located at the DPHSS Division of Public Welfare Bureau of Health Care Financing Administration, also in the Castle Mall.
Applications for eligibility services for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, cash assistance, Medicaid, MIP, and child care development will be at the Northern Region Community Health Center in Dededo, Southern Region Community Health Center in Inarajan, and the Bureau of Management Support at Castle Mall.
On Nov. 30, Public Health announced SNAP and Cash Assistance Program benefits would be delayed for days – also because of the fire. The delay on the food and cash benefits for the needy was announced four days after the reported damage caused by the fire.
While we recognize the challenges Public Health had to deal with, it has become apparent Public Health wasn't prepared for this emergency.
This wasn't simply a matter of relocating a government office. Important records and the ability to provide essential services are on the line.
GovGuam in general needs to come up with backup systems — or better backups if one already exists – especially for programs that affect health care and public welfare.