HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — The island and its local government can expect yet another billion dollar boost from the federal government if the Build Back Better Act becomes law.
Delegate Michael San Nicolas, Guam’s lone member of Congress, told reporters Saturday he’s optimistic that would happen next month during a news conference following the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives.
The legislation spends about $1.75 trillion to improve health care, housing and education, fight climate change, and fund a national paid leave program, paid through tax increases for billion dollar companies, on corporate stock buybacks and on "high-income" individuals, estates and trusts.
San Nicolas, a non-voting delegate in the House, said he confirmed parts of the bill that benefit Guam specifically are maintained in the version of the legislation being considered by the U.S. Senate.
“So on that basis, it’s very good news that we’re not going to have to worry about some kind of technicality or procedural objection resulting in any of our particular provisions getting cancelled out,” he said.
A vote in the Senate could happen in December, according to San Nicolas, who explained that programs like an extension of advance child tax credits would need to be in place before 2022.
“I don’t see anything that may put these items at risk, unless there’s going to be some kind of surprise, or some kind of grandstanding that we’re not anticipating at this time,” he said, of the likelihood that Guam’s provisions will be passed by the Senate. “But so far, so good I would say.”
The delegate’s office was compiling total figures for how much the island could expect to receive in the package, but San Nicolas highlighted several programs, and estimated federal funding could range between $1.5 and $1.75 billion.
Appropriations contributing to that estimated total include:
• $345 million for “critical infrastructure,” including to build a new public hospital.
• $25 million for new affordable housing programs, like down payment assistance.
• $31 million in additional Community Development Block Grants, which can be used on parks, pools, and gyms.
• $30 million in technical assistance for climate change programs.
• An extension of the Supplemental Security Income program to Guam.
• A pool of $140 million for the territories in Medicaid matching funds, and a 17% local matching rate for the program.
• Access to $1 billion in disability and senior citizen housing assistance.
• A share of $320 million in total funding to the territories for highways.
The congressional earmark to replace the Guam Memorial Hospital has freed up previously awarded pandemic relief funds, which will be used for a new local aid program, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said Saturday.
“The inclusion of funds for our Administration’s priority to construct a hospital allows me the flexibility to shift ARPA resources for programs which support ongoing recovery efforts,” she stated in a release praising the house passage.
“Given the high fuel costs, our administration is now moving forward to implement a fuel voucher program that will provide direct aid to assist residents with transportation costs as they look for employment,” Leon Guerrero stated.
Access to education
The Build Back Better Act also provides for a number ways to improve access to education.
San Nicolas said the bill would offer subsidies to make child care costs “no more than 7% of income” of eligible families, and funds six years of a universal pre-school program for 3- and 4-year-olds.
The delegate said he would brief the Guam Department of Education and private child care providers to discuss requirements and timeframes to expend the money from the program. He confirmed it could lead to the hiring of more public school teachers, and expansion of their pre-kindergarten offerings.
Improvements to high education are included as well.
Should the measure become law, out-of-state students attending public universities or colleges can receive up to $15,000 per year to help afford higher tuition, and annual Pell grant awards will increase by about $550.
The benefits for non-resident students may also result in those stateside getting their degree on island.
“We have one of the most attractive marine biology programs in the country. So yeah, we could absolutely benefit from students wanting to come out here and take advantage of the unique learning experiences that Guam has to offer,” he said.