$10M aid program, other bills now law

DISTRIBUTION: Households participate in the Feed the Need food distribution program in Yigo on June 27 to help families that continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A new local law would provide additional cash assistance to Guam households affected by the pandemic. Dontana Keraskes/The Guam Daily

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, despite her reservations on the lack of equity for single parents, allowed Bill 367-35 to lapse into law. 

Now known as Public Law 35-94, the Ayuda I Mangafa Help for Families Program promises $500 for each eligible member within a family. Additionally, legislation on safe housing for victims and additional protections for victims of sexual assault are among the bills now enacted into law. 

Leon Guerrero said she withheld her signature from the Ayuda I Mangafa Help for Families Program, introduced by Sen. Amanda Shelton, because of technical errors that "would unintentionally discriminate against unwed parents living as a family but filing separately." 

According to the governor, a qualified couple filing jointly may receive $1,000 with an additional $500 for each of two qualified dependents, for a total of $2,000.  

"Under the same exact scenario, an unwed mother, with two qualified dependents, filing individually would receive just $500," Leon Guerrero wrote in her statement on the bill. 

Leon Guerrero added that she believes the Legislature did not intend for such discrimination and that she knows payments from the program were never intended to compel years of litigation on those grounds. The bill also authorizes the governor to transfer up to $10 million for the program, including from CARES Act money.

During session discussions at the Legislature, the addition of federal funds, which will have to be used first before local funds are touched, drew criticism from several senators, including Sen. Telo Taitague. The minority leader said if the governor had wanted to provide this funding to Guamanians using federal funds, she could have done it on her own since Adelup has said local lawmakers don't have oversight of federal funds.

The governor in her letter to the Legislature said she believes that section to be unenforceable as the local lawmakers cannot reauthorize or appropriate federal funding once delegated by Congress, but she will ignore that "unintentional overreach" by the Legislature because she values the overall goal of the bill.

"In the next few days, I will work with the author to accomplish her original intent – dispensing payments to a class of individuals left behind by federal law," Leon Guerrero wrote. 

Families are to apply for the program at the Department of Revenue and Taxation, which has up to 30 days to establish the rules for the program.

Small business help

The governor did sign into law Bill 323-35, which allows for limited exemptions to small businesses under the Dave Santos Small Business Enhancement Act to mitigate financial impacts from COVID-19.

She also signed the Guam Safe Housing Act of 2020, which provides protections for tenants who are victims of abuse, and Bill 162-35, which terminates the parent-child relationship of an individual who conceived the child by committing sexual assault against another. 

Other bills enacted:

  • Bill 252-35 - appropriates $468,318 from the University of Guam Higher Education Endowment Fund to UOG
  • Bill 251-35 - appropriates up to $254,640 from the Guam Community College Endowment Fund to GCC
  • Bill 241-35 - creates a rip current and hiking safety awareness program
  • Bill 366-35 - creates options for health care insurance for government employees 
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