HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Reporting that Guam is “fighting its way forward and getting stronger every day,” Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero unveiled a number of new initiatives to help residents struggling amid the rising cost of living.
“We all see prices climbing at the gas station and the grocery store. From utilities to health care, child care and housing, these increasing costs are shrinking family incomes faster than they can be earned,” Leon Guerrero said in her 2022 State of the Island Address delivered at the Guam Congress Building on Wednesday night.
Her first announced project addresses incrementally increasing residential and commercial power bills, which are scheduled to go up by more than $85 for an average residential customer by the end of this year.
“We are proposing that every residential ratepayer on Guam receive a monthly credit of $100 to immediately offset the cost of power for each of the next five months,” the governor announced. “This $500 benefit will help alleviate your rising power bills.”
She called on senators to send her legislation that authorizes this credit, which she committed to signing into law quickly, just as she did with a recently enacted gas tax holiday. Leon Guerrero touted the new, temporary exemption for liquid fuel was followed by an immediate 19-cent decrease for prices at gas stations.
A third round of direct financial assistance, through an initiative dubbed “Prugraman Salappe’” will grant an additional $500 to local families. Residents who qualified for the previous round won’t have to apply again, according to the governor.
“You don’t have to do anything — you’ll automatically get a $500 check in the same manner,” she said. “Those who did not apply for round two can still get this $500 by applying for Prugraman Salappe’ 3.”
Leon Guerrero publicly supported other policies, including offering free trash collection to “every household struggling under the weight of the pandemic.”
The investment, which according to the governor amounts to $12 million, “is good for our people, good for our economy, and good for our environment.”
She called on lawmakers to develop a paid family leave policy to apply “throughout the private sector.”
“Covid taught us that too often, families are forced to choose between the health of those they love, and the wages they need to live,” Leon Guerrero said. “That must end with us. Let me be clear: I support paid sick and family leave for everyone who works.”
Businesses that implement paid family leave “should” be incentivized with breaks on business licensing and competitive procurement, according to the governor.
Leon Guerrero announced her intention to try a new model of health insurance, which she called “the first step” toward universal coverage.
“I know that the rising cost of health care keeps many up at night. That is why we must boldly rethink old models and deliver on the work we started early in our administration — health insurance not just for the lucky or the few–but as a human right,” she said.
The first group to test the governor’s new model will be the 13,000 employees, retirees and family members covered under the government of Guam’s health insurance plan.
“By covering the cost of care ourselves and administering it privately with our existing insurers, we believe we can cut costs, cancel health care bureaucracies and cover more people,” the governor said. “Once this model is proven, it will be expanded to businesses, increasing coverage where none presently exists. Surely we have learned that our economy cannot be healthy if our people are sick.”
Jobs and tourism
Leon Guerrero has been tasked with managing the island and its economy through a yearslong public health emergency and globally disrupted tourism industry.
“Josh and I know that although programs can help, most people want the dignity of a decent job,” she said. “While the pain of Covid is still felt by too many — Guam’s economy is finally rebounding.”
Small business “is stirring again,” the governor said, and a “tidal wave” of federal and local money are poised to “restore prosperity for everyone willing to work for it.”
An islandwide job fair with more than 500 jobs available has been scheduled for July 1, she said, to help encourage residents looking for new opportunities or to engage with employment assistance programs.
In the midst of increasing direct flights to and from Guam, Leon Guerrero said the island’s visitor industry may be opened up to more customers coming by sea.
“Thanks to our $15 million dollar (American Rescue Plan) investment in the construction of Hotel Wharf at the Port, our island will finally see the birth of Guam’s cruise ship industry, bringing with it the potential of thousands of new tourists and hundreds of new jobs,” Leon Guerrero said. “This multimillion-dollar economic investment will also be good in the short term. We made this investment on the condition that the Port will not increase tariffs for the next two fiscal years — helping to avoid an increase in the price of goods we ship here.”
The governor acknowledged the differing points of view in the halls of the Legislature, but said despite any contrary beliefs, Guam’s people are still bound together by faith and love.
“I know we live in a time of soundbites and cynicism — and that too often the scope of our challenges is outmatched only by the anger in our politics,” Leon Guerrero said. “But I also understand that Democrat, Republican, or somewhere in between — we all care about the same things — a paycheck that keeps up with the cost of living, safer streets, schools that teach our children well, businesses that thrive, good health care, and a government that works for all of Guam.”