Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has signed Bill 181-35 into law, paving the way for the local payment of war claims to the island's World War II survivors.
The goal is to issue the first check by the end of January, the governor told a room full of manamko' at a signing ceremony on Friday.
The measure, now Public Law 35-61, is intended as interim legislation, creating a local fund to pay war claims while a congressional solution to a technical flaw in the World War II Loyalty Recognition Act moves forward.
The federal act established the payment of war reparations but lacked the provision to authorize the U.S. Treasury Department to make the payments.
Guam Del. Michael San Nicolas introduced H.R. 1365 in February 2019 to correct the error.
Governor: Money is already set aside
Leon Guerrero said between $13 million and $14 million in local funding has been set aside to pay claims, while the U.S. Treasury has about $23 million – for a total of about $37 million.
"Roughly we're looking at about anywhere from $33 million to $40 million in obligations to our manamko'," the governor said.
The new local law authorizes the governor to transfer funds from General Fund appropriations from fiscal years 2019 and 2020.
That money was reimbursed to Guam by the federal government, according to the governor.
"We're using that to advance it and then we'll get those funds replaced by the war claims fund that was created by the U.S. Treasury," she added.
Leon Guerrero: Treasury Department is reviewing MOU
This is part of a pending memorandum of understanding with the federal government, which sets out the administrative process for the payment of claims, and must be executed before the local law can take effect.
The governor said the MOU had been written and was submitted to the U.S. Treasury for review. The Treasury is expected to return the document by the beginning or middle of next week.
"Once the parties sign that, now we move forward to our own processes here to pay off the claims," Leon Guerrero added.
GovGuam will be sending letters of instruction to claimants and there will be a designated place for them to go, both of which are still being finalized.
"It will be the greatest day of our lives when we do this and it will be making you whole after all the experiences that you have encountered," Leon Guerrero told the manamko' at the signing ceremony.
The local fund will pay for adjudicated claims.
Chirag Bhojwani, the legislative speaker's communication director, said the speaker’s office is looking into the issue of survivors who don’t have an application pending at the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.
Delegate: Local law puts congressional bill at risk
Meanwhile, the Guam delegate has been critical of the local war claims legislation. San Nicolas reacted negatively to its passage at the Legislature, saying the local measure is a poorly structured bill that put his congressional initiative at risk.
Leon Guerrero said the reality is the measure is now law and it doesn’t affect H.R. 1365.
"I still continue to support H.R. 1365. As I have always said, Bill 181 complements H.R. 1365, and I'm just not accepting the fact that Congressman San Nicolas is resistant in supporting our Bill 181,” she said. “I don't understand where that is coming from. Be that as it may, we are moving forward.”