From face masks to tax cuts, senators offer more relief bills

MASKS: Department of Public Health and Social Services medical staff members wave to the camera as they tend to residents at a drive-thru testing site at the Mangilao night market on Thursday.  Dontana Keraskes/The Guam Daily Post

Senators are offering more measures that seek to aid residents during the coronavirus pandemic, from buying more face masks to giving tax cuts so businesses can afford employees' hazard pay.

Sen. Mary Torres has offered to appropriate $75,000 from her office's unexpended funds to purchase face masks, shields and other personal protective equipment.

Her Bill 349 seeks to appropriate those funds to Guam Homeland Security and the Office of Civil Defense to buy these items, to be used at government agencies that require face-to-face customer interaction.

The senator said while her bill permits the purchase of PPE for any government entity, specific agencies include the Guam Department of Labor for the operation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, customer-focused services at the Guam Department of Revenue and Taxation, and the Guam Department of Land Management, which partially reopened on Tuesday.

Sen. James Moylan on Wednesday offered a bill that seeks to grant $800 assistance payments for workers affected by COVID-19, using up to $20 million transferred to the government of Guam through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

"We need to do something today, as our government has done absolutely nothing materially to help families in their time of need, and the only responses we are getting is to wait for the federal moneys to arrive," Moylan said, in introducing Bill 350.

A similar bill was earlier introduced by Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee, but senators held off action on it after the governor said there will be federal unemployment checks. The application process for this federal program among employees, however, is not expected to begin until the middle of May, at the earliest.

Moylan also asked the governor to consider advancing the payment of federal unemployment benefits using local funds, similar to the advance payment of war claims for living survivors.

Sen. Wil Castro, meanwhile, seeks to temporarily reduce the business privilege tax from the current 5% to 4% through the end of fiscal 2020 on Sept. 30.

In his Bill 348, Castro proposes the application of the savings realized from the temporary tax cut to employee compensation or benefits including salaries and wages and differential pay such as hazard or other specialty pay.

The proposal, he said, applies only to businesses that have remained open for service and maintained employees on their payroll during the COVID-19 state of emergency declaration.

Speaker Tina Muna Barnes on Tuesday also wrote to the governor, asking her to consider using the anticipated $11 million war claims reimbursement to fund her bill that seeks to provide financial relief to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once the federal government allows the use of the $119 million in direct COVID-19 assistance to GovGuam for economic relief to residents, then the local government can reimburse the money to the war claims fund, the speaker said.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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