Department of Administration Director Edward Birn told the Legislature last week that $65.6 million or about 56% of the nearly $118 million in direct pandemic relief funding for the government of Guam is still available as of Aug. 31.

On Monday night, Birn said he anticipates all funds will be spent by Dec. 31.

GovGuam will have to return any remaining funds to the federal government if not spent by that time.

About 40% or $47.5 million was spent as of Aug. 31, Birn said in his Oct. 5 report to the Legislature.

Another $4.9 million or 4% was encumbered as of that period, the report shows.

The 40% spending rate is an increase from about 25% or $29 million spent as of June 30, as reported in early August.

Some elected officials were hoping there'd be more details in DOA's report.

"At a glance it looks like an allocation breakdown but it lacks specifics on what the funding is intended to address, and also why there is 50% unexpended or encumbered," Del. Michael San Nicolas said on Monday.

Sen. Therese Terlaje, on Oct. 8, sought clarification on Birn's latest report, which the senator said provided "very general expense categories."

Terlaje said the report breaks down by agency the amount received or spent "but does not detail what the agency spent the funds on."

The senator asked Birn to provide a copy of his most recent report submitted to the U.S. Treasury.

Terlaje also told Birn that there hasn't been any monthly report submitted to the speaker of "all COVID-19-related expenses incurred by (the governor) funded with either local or federal funds" pursuant to Public Law 35-86.

"Is the Oct. 5 letter and report of costs incurred and encumbrances recorded within the Coronavirus Relief Fund to the speaker meant to be in compliance and satisfy the requirements of P.L. 35-86?" Terlaje asked.

As of Monday, Terlaje said, she had yet to receive a response from Birn.

'Very few details'

Sen. Telo Taitague said without supporting documents, the two-page summary of costs incurred and encumbrances that DOA provided includes "very few details" on how most federal CARES Act funds have been spent.

"To ensure transparency and accountability of U.S taxpayer money awarded to Guam, it would help if pertinent agencies provided additional information on the types of programs, services and resources federal funds have been designated to support," she said.

Taitague believes this is the kind of information the Legislature anticipated in its earlier decision to override the governor's veto of Bill 333, now P.L. 35-86, which establishes transparent implementation of federal and local assistance programs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nearly $118 million in direct coronavirus relief funds for GovGuam is just a part of the estimated $1.63 billion that the federal government authorized for Guam to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They're from the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Support, or CARES, Act funding.

As of mid-September, nearly $400 million or 35% of $1.13 billion that Guam already received had been spent.

'Responsible spending plan'

With less than three months left in calendar year 2020, Taitague said she's asking Adelup to finalize and issue for public record "a responsible spending plan for remaining CARES Act funds well before these resources expire."

"I also urge the governor to consider using a portion of available CARES Act funds to support displaced workers who are struggling to get through this pandemic and who may not be eligible for public assistance, particularly health insurance," she said.

Some other senators contacted on Monday said they had yet to review the DOA report.

Largest spending amounts

Of the $47 million-plus already spent, the largest totals include:

  • $15.730 million for the Department of Public Health and Social Services' COVID-related economic support and others
  • $13.971 million for the Guam Economic Development Authority's small business assistance
  • $7.985 million for the executive branch agencies' COVID-related payroll expenses for public safety, public health, health care and human services
  • $7.335 million for Guam Homeland Security's COVID-related public health expenses
  • $1 million for the Guam Department of Education's COVID-related actions to facilitate compliance with public health measures

Of the $65.6 million still available, the following areas will see the largest spending:

  • $12 million for executive branch agencies' COVID-related payroll
  • $9.57 million, DOA
  • $6 million, Department of Revenue and Taxation
  • $5 million, Guam Memorial Hospital Authority
  • $4 million, DPHSS
  • $3.5 million for GMH contracts for doctors
  • $3 million, GMHA
  • $2.979 million, GHS
  • $2.94 million, Judiciary, Office of the Attorney General, Office of Public Accountability
  • $2.4 million for a temporary government hospital
  • $2 million, Department of Corrections
  • $2 million, GEDA
  • $2 million for tier 2 and 3 clinics
  • $1.82 million, Guam Fire Department
  • $1.75 million for the Department of Parks and Recreation

Keeping territories' relief intact

San Nicolas issued a separate statement earlier Monday, stating that the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives has been fighting to keep Guam's pandemic relief intact after President Donald Trump's administration tried to exclude territories from another massive relief package under negotiation.

"Immense credit needs to be given to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House leadership for hearing the repeated call of territorial members of Congress to simply include territories in any relief package; after all, we are Americans too," stated San Nicolas, who is seeking reelection.

In the first massive round of relief, the federal government authorized some $1.63 billion for Guam.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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