The federal government – compliments of the American taxpayer – kept thousands of families from going hungry and losing their homes during the pandemic. Billions in federal funds ranging from an array of coronavirus relief grants to military spending kept the private sector afloat. Thousands received unemployment assistance benefits, when their employers were unable to open shop. Even the government of Guam was able to pay its employees to stay home during the lockdowns. All thanks to federal funds.
But then there were the other workers – the ones in the private sector, who had to go to work even when infection rates were soaring – who were left in the cold.
Grocery workers, gas station attendants, bank employees, and many others who went to work at reduced hours and exposed themselves to the risk of infection from each other and their customers belong to a category of employees throughout the nation that Congress has dubbed ‘essential workers.’ And because they were called to work during the pandemic, they did not qualify for unemployment assistance and other programs.
When Congress appropriated to Guam more than a billion dollars in funding for the governor to use at her discretion, among the key recommendations for usage of those funds was to pay ‘essential worker pay.’ In a nutshell, it would have been a stipend per hour of work during the period other workers were receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA.
For example, let’s say Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero decided to use a portion of the remaining $320 million in American Rescue Plan Act money still sitting in the bank to grant to essential workers $2 per hour in essential worker pay. If, for example, a worker could show pay stubs totaling 1,000 hours of work during the PUA period, that person would receive $2,000 in essential worker pay. The amount is far below what PUA recipients and GovGuam workers received, but it would arguably help thousands of families who were left out of the federal largesse resulting from the pandemic. If 10,000 of these essential workers received this same benefit, the program would cost $20 million. There is 16 times that amount sitting in the bank.
Other states have implemented such a program.
The governor and legislature of Massachusetts implemented an essential worker pay program that has paid stipends to hundreds of thousands of low-income private sector workers.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will award to essential workers who were required to report to work in person during the pandemic one-time “COVID hazard payments” of up to $1,550 under new tentative labor agreements.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz is using federal funds for a frontline worker program that will provide essential worker pay to people in his state who worked in frontline industries between March 15, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
In Michigan, a ‘Hero Pay’ program will pay $1,000 to first responders, and $2 per hour for direct-care workers.
Gov. Leon Guerrero has previously ignored the issue, when Congressman Michael San Nicolas pushed for her to create an essential worker pay program for Guam. Her spokeswoman, Krystal Paco-San Agustin, said she will raise the issue again with the front office.