Even in some of the worst events that caused Guam's tourism industry to slow down in recent decades – the Asian financial crisis in the early 1990s, the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States, and the fear of travel due to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome epidemic – Guam has not seen visitor arrivals plunge to near zero for nearly a year.
In this COVID-19 pandemic, this is our reality for a year now. Tourist arrivals have been down 99%. This means more than 20,000 workers in the hospitality industry, including restaurant workers, retail sales associates, food distribution staffers and hotel employees have been out of jobs or are trying to cope with reduced paychecks for months and months.
Government officials have used the phrase "unprecedented" to describe the magnitude of the problem. But the worst of our displaced workers' situation has yet to unfold.
For months they had at least some weekly cash coming in through the federal government-funded unemployment benefits. These benefits are about to end because they are capped at 39 weeks. And GovGuam has not had a locally funded unemployment program to keep this financial lifeline coming. Many of the displaced workers started receiving benefits in February or March so their jobless benefits are ending this month or next month.
We have raised the issue before and we raise it again.
A crisis for many families is looming – unless the federal government somehow finds a way to extend the federal unemployment program for Guam.
What we now need from the Guam Department of Labor is a breakdown of how many of the jobless beneficiaries have lost their unemployment benefits and how many will soon lose their benefits as the weeks unfold.
We will also need numbers from the Labor Department of how many displaced workers found jobs through the department's programs.
These are some of the most important data the public should get at this point. This will tell us, as a community, how tough things will be for our neighbors, our relatives, our friends and for others who call Guam home.
We don't have the kind of safety net for the sheer number of people who are facing a financial free fall. And if the rent moratorium ends, then the situation will change from bad to worse.
These numbers and our local government's plan to address this monumental challenge must be laid out now, for the public to hear.
It seems our local government is simply hoping the federal government will come through with another rescue package.
But what if Uncle Sam's rescue package comes too little, too late for Guamanians?
Is it asking too much to expect a more proactive GovGuam – one that cares about the plight of ALL Guam workers?