By Troy Torres
The Trump administration is offering to fully fund a $300 weekly payment to qualified unemployed residents of the Mariana Islands, and neither Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero nor Gov. Ralph Torres have announced their application for the money.
When first announced two weeks ago, a Presidential Memorandum stated governors of the states and territories must apply for the new program - which was created to replace the $600 FPUC that expired at the end of July - and commit an additional $100 weekly payment per qualified recipient to match the federal government's $300 weekly payment.
But in a program letter issued August 12 by the U.S. Department of Labor, that matching requirement became optional, with states and territories allowed to use underlying Unemployment Insurance benefits paid out as their cost share. Basically, instead of recipients receiving the full additional $400 weekly, they would just receive $300 weekly and the local government would not have to shell anything out. It would be free federal money.
"We acknowledge that American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are eligible to participate in the [Lost Wages Assistance] program, though they do not have an underlying UI program," the program letter states. "Technical assistance will be provided separately to these territories regarding the state match."
Instead of applying for the program, Leon Guerrero administration financial officials told senators in a budget hearing this morning that the program is off the table for consideration by the governor. The decision was made on the assumption that the state match would be required, and the direction from the governor that she is unwilling to absorb the cost of the match share from local funds. Budget director Lester Carlson said the CARES Act direct aid funding the government of Guam received, which was authorized for use as the match share, was already obligated or expended.
According to the U.S. DOL program letter, if Guam, the CNMI and FEMA enter a grant agreement for the Trump unemployment program, some 22,000 eligible private sector recipients would receive at least $300 weekly retroactive to the pay period ending August 1, 2020. They would receive that benefit through December 27, 2020, or when funds are exhausted, whichever comes first.
The Trump program also will fund the cost of standing up and administering this program:
"Administrative funding for the LWA program, including changes to existing UI systems to accommodate the program, is provided by FEMA."