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'Helping the island survive'

'Helping the island survive': GDOL spends $366M, awaits $443M more

$366M spent so far for unemployment relief, but GDOL waits for $443M more from feds

TEMPERATURE CHECK: A Guam Department of Labor employee checks the temperature of a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimant before she enters the Yona branch of the Guam Public Library on Aug. 12, while another claimant waits his turn. Haidee Eugenio Gilbert/The Guam Daily Post

Editor's note: This is the third in a series that breaks down federal pandemic relief funds for Guam.

Some 30,000 Guam private sector workers, along with their families, have been spared from hunger, homelessness and massive debt even after losing their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least 115 of these displaced workers also got temporary jobs during the public health crisis.

This lifeline comes from $366 million in federal pandemic funds that the Guam Department of Labor has so far used and paid out to those who were laid off, furloughed or whose work hours were reduced directly because of COVID-19.

That's about 72% of the $510.7 million that the federal government has made available so far.

Most of that, or $509 million, is for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

But there's still about $443 million more in Labor-related funds coming.

That's because Guam Labor has been awarded a whopping $954 million in total federal grants under three different programs, but only 53% of that has been released so far.

Guam Labor's total $954 million grant is almost equivalent to the government of Guam's fiscal year 2021 budget.

"Good thing there's PUA," said Norlyn Anne M. Lao, a sous chef at a hotel restaurant who's been without a paycheck for six months.

Lao was furloughed from her job March 18. Her husband was also furloughed in March.

"It was one of the toughest moments, not knowing when will we be back to our normal life," she told The Guam Daily Post. "When are we going back to work again? How are we going to pay all the bills? And being scared all the time because of the virus."

The mother of twin boys said after she and her husband received their lump-sum PUA and FPUC benefits, they felt a sense of relief.

They were able to pay their piled-up bills, and didn't have to worry about being homeless after they were able to pay their rent.

"We are still furloughed and still receiving from PUA," Lao said.

Finding another job is even tougher, with some 30,000 others also looking for new or temporary jobs.

'It keeps the economy afloat'

Grants awarded to Guam Labor are the largest chunk of GovGuam's total $1.6 billion pandemic relief money from the federal government, based on Bureau of Budget and Management Research data.

"This money is helping the island survive. It's putting food on the table. It keeps the economy afloat," said Guam Labor Director David Dell'Isola.

And the funds heading to Guam keep increasing.

On Friday, Guam Labor announced an additional $210,000 federal grant to help in the prevention and detection of PUA fraud and identify theft. It's now available for drawdown.

More money to come

Of the $443 million in remaining funds meant for Guam Labor, most is for PUA and can be drawn down until December and beyond.

They also include the $22.6 million that will partly fund the additional $400 weekly benefits for the unemployed for at least three weeks. It can extend to up to six weeks.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero directed Dell'Isola to apply for the FEMA grant, which was approved within days. 

"The full amount is available to access for drawdowns. However, drawdowns are made based on expenditures we intend on paying out," Dell'Isola said. "We are still working on the mechanisms to disburse these funds, as it is separate from U.S. Department of Labor funding."

Largest program

U.S. Labor approved a $924 million budget for Guam's PUA and FPUC programs, but $509 million has been released so far in three batches.

Of that, $362 million has been used and paid out to claimants.

"Guam has paid out 70.94% of the PUA and FPUC funds authorized as of this date," Dell'Isola said.

Because PUA benefits cover unemployment through December, U.S. Labor doesn't need to release all the funds all at once.

That's the main reason there is a gap between the amounts granted versus the amounts so far spent.

GDOL also received $1.5 million out of an original $7.8 million request under the National Dislocated Worker Program grant for the job placement of about 186 COVID-19-displaced workers.

About $381,000 of the received amount has so far been used to pay at least 115 recruited COVID-19 contact tracers, maintenance and sanitizing workers, and for other posts.

"We have had challenges in recruiting to assist in COVID-19-related activities, due to fear and the collection of PUA," Dell'Isola said.

Hundreds more workers can be reemployed and retrained in other more high-demand jobs, once Labor's application for a nearly $12 million grant under the NDWP is approved, he said.

Masks, salaries, software

The PUA and FPUC expenditures to date include withholding taxes and some $4.1 million in administrative costs, Dell'Isola said.

These include hiring Florida-based Geographic Solutions for the software that's making it possible for 30,000-plus Guam workers to file unemployment claims.

That costs about $966,450, including maintenance, Dell'Isola said.

Masks and other personal protective equipment for department staff cost about $25,000.

The sanitizing products that Labor needs to protect everyone from the spread of the virus are included.

Some $150,450 also went into buying computers for the PUA program claims.

Administrative costs also covered a $100,000 temporary processing and call center at Guam Community College, and a new call center in Hagåtña.

Some $1.5 million is for the salaries and benefits of employees working for the PUA program, Dell'Isola said.

With massive pandemic-related unemployment during the last six months, Dell'Isola said he imagines a much grimmer picture of Guam without the federal relief funds.

"I know how it is living from paycheck to paycheck. I was once like that as a young person starting out in life," he said. "And that's what's driving me and my team to get the money as fast as possible out to the families, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck."

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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