Republican senators are reaching out to the White House and the U.S. Department of the Interior to speed up the federal reimbursement for war claims.
About $11 million in local funds were used to advance war claims payouts to Guam's World War II survivors earlier this year, as Guam waited for the passage of a bill that provided the mechanism for the federal government to pay the claims. The president has since signed that bill into law and federal officials are taking over payments to war survivors. But local officials also are waiting for the federal government to pay that $11 million back into the General Fund.
Minority Leader Telo Taitague, Assistant Minority Leader Louise Muña, Minority Whip James Moylan and Sen. Wil Castro want those reimbursed funds to go directly to pay tax refunds.
The GOP senators have asked Douglas Domenech, assistant secretary of the Interior, and Douglas Hoelscher, deputy assistant to President Trump and director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, for their assistance in urging the U.S. Department of the Treasury to release funds owed to the government of Guam – so that additional tax refunds may be issued to help families struggling to pay for food, medicine and rent, as well as vehicle and other personal loans in the face of COVID-19.
The senators said the reimbursement would help the government of Guam. It's unclear how well the government's revenues are doing at this point, but as of last month, officials were looking at a $10 million decrease.
"We continue to push the Governor and Guam Legislature to provide much-needed financial relief to families, and remain hopeful that a portion, if not all, of the War Claims reimbursement will be used to pay for outstanding tax refunds. Our families are counting on leaders to get tax refunds into their hands as quickly as any process can provide – and we are confident that the White House and the U.S. DOI can help in this process by getting the U.S. Treasury to reimburse Guam ASAP," the senators stated in the joint release.
Meanwhile, Guam's executive branch continues to pay tax refunds as directed by court order. As of the last batch, tax refund checks were being sent to people who filed returns by November 2019.
Senators are expected to return to session on Monday to address other proposed legislation, including Bill 334, which Moylan hopes can be modified "to be more reasonable when it comes to fines associated with those violating the governor's executive order, including the removal of any jail time penalties."
"Likewise, I do hope that with the cries of the community over this weekend, that my colleagues reconsider whether we will even advance Bill 334. This is the curfew legislation which I have gone on the record to oppose," Moylan stated.
"Finally, I do hope we can entertain Bill 340, as I have stated my intentions to propose an amendment to the measure, particularly with 'eligibility,' so that we can provide some support for those who have either lost their jobs due to this pandemic, or had their hours reduced. It would be a great short-term boost."