Is the governor being honest with us about the use of federal funds? Adelup says congressman misinformed

Congressman Michael San Nicolas, who for months has questioned Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s use and non-use of some $600 million in federal coronavirus discretionary funding, went straight to the U.S. Treasury department to verify statements Adelup has been making about the funding.

“We were able to verify through Treasury that the administration received the bulk of the funding in April,” Mr. San Nicolas said in a news conference last week, when he lamented Adelup’s lack of transparency, planning, and motives for the use of the money.

That funding – $553 million in discretionary funds through the American Rescue Plan Act – has largely gone unspent; though the governor has recently outlined what at least part of that money will be used for.

Since receiving the funds, San Nicolas and island senators – particularly Speaker Therese Terlaje and Sen. Jim Moylan – have suggested different uses for the money. Many of the suggested uses have included direct stimulus aid to taxpayers, complimentary pay for ‘essential workers,’ investments into critical operations like the police department, and assistance with people’s bills like utilities. Alas, only Ms. Leon Guerrero can decide how the money is to be spent.

Reporters have asked her, and her administration has replied to various suggestions that (paraphrasing here): Adelup is awaiting further guidance from U.S. Treasury on how to proceed.

Those statements stirred Mr. San Nicolas’s curiosity, so he reached out to the federal agency.

“What Treasury has told us is that no further guidance will be given beyond their final interim rule,” Mr. San Nicolas said, directly contradicting statements Adelup has made about the delay in committing funding for various programs.

The congressman also asked the treasury department about two separate funding sources meant for municipalities; one funding source of $33 million, and another of $17 million meant for municipal governments. Guam, under local law, has 19 municipalities headed each by a mayor.

In October, Mr. San Nicolas, Mr. Moylan, and Piti Mayor Jesse Alig (president of the Mayors Council of Guam) spoke to reporters about the two pots of funds, and how that money was meant to be spent on the priority areas mayors allocated for their villages. Adelup, following that controversy, explained the $17 million would be apportioned to the mayors, but said because of how federal law is worded, the $33 million did not go to Guam’s municipalities, but to the government of Guam as a whole.

Mr. San Nicolas said he spoke with Treasury officials about this matters, and the federal bureaucrats told him it was Adelup that asserted the entirety of the $50 million combined pot should be given to the governor to be spent at her discretion because of the ambiguity in the law about Guam’s so-called municipalities.

“There has been a lot of misinformation circulating about how certain portions of the ARP funds can be used and who should be directly in control of how those funds are to be distributed,” governor’s director of communications Krystal Paco-San Agustin told Kandit. “Unfortunately, that misinformation is originating from some elected officials who should know better. The American Rescue Plan is a Federal Law that was drafted with the whole nation in mind. Every State and Territory is different. Guam, and some other places, do not have counties. Our villages are not the same as counties, to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Our villages also do not meet the definition of Non-Entitlement Units. Trying to get them to fit that definition results in one thing and one thing only – less funding. As recent as our last meetings with the U.S. Treasury officials in October, we reconfirmed this point. Trying to force our villages to meet those definitions only to receive less funding is not an acceptable outcome. Over the course of the last several months, the Governor, Lt. Governor, and their fiscal team have met with the various Mayors and the leadership of the MCOG to develop the plans on how to maximize these funds so that the greatest benefit can be felt at the village level. If we want the villages of Guam to be treated as counties in the various States and have the funding levels remain in our favor, the solution lies in only one place – The United States Congress.”

The total amount of funding allocated under ARPA, which the administration received for the discretionary use by Ms. Leon Guerrero actually is $603 million, when the municipal funding is included on top of the original $553 million.

Ms. Leon Guerrero recently quipped at a session of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C. that “my senators on Guam are very upset, because they cannot appropriate the $596 million that was given to us.”

Mr. Moylan was not happy about that. He issued a news release, which stated in part, “[M]ost Senators (at least with those I am in regular communication with) are not upset because we are not provided the authority to spend federal relief dollars. Rather most Senators have echoed the concerns on the lack of transparency, communication, and just clear sincerity, from the administration, when asked about how the federal dollars would be spent to help the community.

“The Governor has forgotten the invitation she provided both lawmakers and the Mayors Council of Guam earlier in the year, to share their thoughts on how the nearly $600 million could be spent to benefit island residents. Both, the list of recommendations and conversations, were merely optics at best from the administration, as the doors were eventually shut right after those discussions. The Governor has also forgotten that most Senators work with constituents daily, and unlike the front office which has several layers, we can relate to the struggles of what the people of Guam are enduring, because they are in front of us. When we provide recommendations on how federal programs should be spent, we are doing our jobs.”

Speaker Terlaje also said she has been asking for a more collaborative working relationship with the governor in the use of such a tremendous amount of money. She has been critical about the lack of information and detail coming out of the governor’s office on this funding.

The legislators were not the only elected officials critical of the administration’s handling of the money at its disposal. Mayor Alig, who spoke to Ray Gibson on The Ray Gibson Show on 93.3 FM The Point Monday morning ,said of the administration’s assertion that $17 million had been given to the mayors: “What money?”

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