Congressional Address 2015 - "Working for Families"
Let me begin by asking everyone to rise for a moment of silence to honor the late Speaker Franklin J.A. Quitugua and Speaker Ben Pangelinan both faithful public servants for whom our island owes a debt of gratitude
Governor; Acting Speaker; Acting Chief Justice; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Monsignor David; Pastor Bob; Military Officials and other podium guests.
My dear people of Guam.
This evening, I stand before you with humble gratitude for the trust you continue to place in me to represent our island in Congress, and to report on federal issues important to our people. I congratulate Governor Calvo and Lieutenant Governor Tenorio on their reelection as our island’s chief executives.
I congratulate the reelected members of the 33rd Guam Legislature: Speaker Won Pat; Vice Speaker BJ Cruz; Legislative Secretary Tina Muna Barnes; Majority Leader Rory Respicio; Assistant Majority Leader Tom Ada; Minority Leader Tony Ada; Senator Frank Aguon Jr.; Senator Dennis Rodriguez; Senator Mike San Nicolas; Senator Brent McCreadie and Senator Tommy Morrison on their re-election.
I also want to recognize our newly elected Senators: Senator Nerissa Underwood and Senator Mary Camacho Torres.
And finally I want to recognize our two returning Senators, Senator Frank Blas Jr and Senator Jim Espaldon.
I also want to recognize our newly elected Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson who has the distinction of being the first women appointed Attorney General. She joins a proud tradition of women firsts on Guam including the first woman in the Guam Assembly Rosa Aguigui Reyes; the first women Senators Cynthia Torres Johnston and Lagrimas Leon Guerrero Untalan; the first woman Public Auditor Doris Flores Brooks; the first woman President of the University of Guam Rosa Roberto Carter; the first woman to earn a PhD Katherine Bordallo Aguon, the first woman Federal judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood; the first women US Attorney Alicia Limtiaco and the people of Guam have given me the distinction of being the first woman Lieutenant Governor and the first woman Delegate. All of you woman have contributed by being trailblazers in your fields. Nationally, I hope that a woman will break the glass ceiling and we will one day have a woman President of the United States.
Over the past twelve years that I have been in office, we have made much progress to improve the quality of life here on Guam. I am committed to working with all our elected leaders to ensure that we continue to build a better Guam for our families and our children.
As I have stated on numerous occasions before this body, we cannot begin a conversation on improving the quality of life for our people without discussing the need to exercise our right to political self-determination. Resolving our political status with the United States through a legitimate act of self-determination is the most important step that we can take to address many longstanding legacy issues we have with the federal government, and it would provide us with a stronger foundation to ensure that policies enacted serve the best interests of our people.
I have witnessed every major effort to resolve our political status, and in every instance there have been stumbling blocks that have prevented us from achieving our goals. A few weeks ago, I heard a story that puts this journey in perspective. Hannah Gutierrez was a young girl around 3 or 4 when she accompanied her father, former Governor Carl Gutierrez, to one of the meetings of the Guam Constitutional Convention. She remembered hearing a speaker making the case for statehood. Hannah asked her dad if Guam were to become a state, would that mean that we would get snow like the states?
Today however, Hannah has grown up; she is an attorney and the Clerk of Court for the Supreme Court of Guam. Look at how much time has passed and consider all that has happened since Hannah was 3. Now consider how much we have lost by not moving in a more focused and determined way to resolve our political status.
Of course, hindsight is 20-20, and we cannot dwell on our past. We can however act now, and not wait for more years to pass before we have this conversation again. Over the years we have worked to move this issue forward, but whether it has been a lack of political will or our quest to obtain the perfect process for the political status vote, we have been unable to move off of square one. I believe that we must get on with this process, and I am urging the Governor and the Legislature to work with the Commission on Decolonization to begin the process so that we can make the self-determination vote a reality. I would also suggest that we remove the requirement to have a certain percentage of eligible voters registered before the vote can be set. I urge the Legislature to set the vote and let those who are eligible register by a certain deadline. Achieving decolonization will be a multi step process that will take time but we must begin to set the stage for this to completely play out. If we do not get this process going, Hannah may be a grandmother with little grandkids before we ever see our status quest come to fruition.
To promote our efforts to resolve our political status, in 2010 , I authored legislation, H.R. 3940, that authorized the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs to use technical assistance grants for political status education. At that time, OIA had assured me that it would follow Congressional intent and make funds available to ensure that our people were knowledgeable of the options that would be presented to them, and understood the ramifications a change in political status would have on their daily lives. I continue to believe that the federal government should support our efforts to resolving our political status, and I will work with OIA to ensure that these grants are made available. However, OIA has consistently asked that local leaders submit a single grant proposal to them, as the Department will not selectively decide which programs to fund. The ball is in our court, and I hope that the Governor, the Legislature, and the Commission on Decolonization will provide the leadership needed to move on this issue.
Last week President Obama was in Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ‘Bloody Sunday’ march. For those of us who live in the territories, the Presdient’s call for full voting rights seems a little hollow when you consider that Americans in the territories cannot vote for President and do not have full voting representation on the floor of the House. Following the Selma commemoration, comedian John Oliver, in his syndicated show Last Week Tonight, had a 15 minute segment on the territories and our quest for voting rights and representation. For those of you who have not seen this segment, I urge you to look it up on YouTube because the biting satire of comedy is probably the best way to express our frustration with the status quo. I am honored to be a part of a legal effort led by my former staffer, Neil Weare, and joined by many people on Guam including Leevin Camacho who are challenging the status quo through a current case before the DC Court of Appeals and other cases they may file to overturn the Insular Cases. I urge our local leaders and our people to join this grassroots movement and to support the “We the People” project. As President Obama said in Selma, “Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “we.” We the People. We shall overcome. Yes we Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve the great nation of ours.”
Organic Act Amendment
As we work to resolve our political status, we should work to improve our current political system and ensure that the Organic Act reflects the values and policies that reflect the will of our community.
One issue that has garnered a lot of attention recently is the adjustments to the salaries of elected officials and cabinet members. I understand the positions of both sides of this issue, and I am not going to second guess your decisions. I will, however, address the Legislature’s request contained in the passage of Resolution 33-2, which asks me to introduce an amendment to the Organic Act that would require the passage of an election before any pay adjustment for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Senators can take effect. This resolution addresses concerns raised by many in our community, and it is similar to an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that limits a Congress’s ability to raise its own pay. And while this does not address the current debate, it will help to restore trust and confidence in the Legislature. I commend the Legislature for passing Resolution 33-2 because it signifies that you understand the frustration expressed by the voters and it was a courageous vote to restrict your own power.
We should also address other electoral reforms and I appreciate the work of Senator Mary Camacho Torres and Senator Rory Respicio for their leadership in working to amend local laws to make it easier for individuals to vote. Increasing voter access and providing opportunities for individuals to run for public office will help ensure that voters are empowered and that elected leaders are held accountable. I believe that we should make it easier for individuals to enter public service and give voters more options to elect leaders they believe should represent them in public office. For that reason, I am proposing an amendment to the Organic Act to remove the 5 year residency requirement for the Senators, Governor and Lieutenant Governor. This requirement is a relic of the 1950s and is inconsistent with modern day standards for public office. In particular, I believe that this strict requirement has been a deterrent to many qualified individuals to run for the Legislature and for Governor, and that it should be repealed. As a case in point, there is no such requirement for the Attorney General nor for my office. Guam’s voters will have the final say as to who is qualified and who is not. I hope that by repealing this provision that we would encourage many young people to run for the Legislature, especially those who have completed their higher education in the states or those who have completed military or federal service. There are many returning Guamanians who have so much to contribute and we should remove the obstacles and make the Legislature and Governor offices within reach as much as other offices are.
Resolving our political status would also enable us to address other legacy issues that we have with the federal government. I understand the impacts the Compacts of Free Association have had on our community, and the burdens that have been placed on the local resources as a result of these agreements with the Freely Associated States. While I continue to support the intent of the Compacts and acknowledge the numerous contributions that FAS migrants have and continue to make to our community, we must continue to work to ensure that our government is not left shouldering the costs of providing social services to Compact migrants who have made Guam home.
I continue to advocate for increased funding for Compact-impact and have co-sponsored legislation with Congressman Mark Takai of Hawaii that would increase mandatory spending from $30 million to $185 million per year. I also continue to urge the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs to make Compact-impact a priority and provide greater assistance to the affected jurisdictions in their discretionary budget. I was very disappointed that Interior has again requested a decrease to discretionary Compact-impact in their fiscal year 2016 budget, and will work with my colleagues to restore this account to at least fiscal year 2015 enacted levels.
However we must also recognize the fiscal realities that continue to face the federal government and the need to find alternative solutions that will not trigger the Republican majority’s budget offset rules. I continue to work with local leaders and stakeholders to identify creative solutions that will enable Guam to recoup the amounts it spends to provide social services to migrants. Last year, I proposed including a provision in the Omnibus Territories Act that would enable the affected jurisdictions to use unreimbursed Compact-impact as an offset to federal matching grant requirements. Governor Calvo and I recently attended the Interagency Group on Insular Areas meeting where Secretary Jewell stated that this is one of her priorities. Our newest Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs, Esther Kia’aina is a daughter of Guam and is deeply knowledgable of this issue. I look forward to her leadership in helping us to find ways to address Compact-Impact. I believe that if we cannot obtain additional funding for Compact-impact, then our local government should be permitted to use these costs to help fund other projects and programs on island that require us to match federal spending. And I appreciate Vice Speaker BJ Cruz and Sen. Frank Blas Jr’s efforts in working with me to find ways to address Compact-Impact.
Further, I offered an amendment to the secondary education reauthorization bill that would make Guam eligible to receive Impact Aid for Compact migrants who attend our public schools. I am also a co-sponsor of proposed legislation with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii that would restore eligibility for Compact migrants to be covered under Medicaid outside of Guam’s Medicaid reimbursement cap.
As these policy proposals work their way through the legislative process, I also encourage Governor Calvo to work with Department of Health and Human Services to provide administrative relief on areas that do not require legislation. Transitioning compact migrants, at least in part, to Medicaid would bring some measure of relief to the Medically Indigent Program. The Department of Health and Human Services has indicated that they will work with GovGuam to amend our Medicaid State Plan. GovGuam can also negotiate a Section 1115 agreement that would provide certain coverages for Compact migrants under Medicaid.
One of the most important impacts is the stress on our prison system. About one third of the prison population is from compact migrants which has caused overcrowding in the prison. Senator Brant McCreadie and Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson are leading the effort to find long-range permanent solutions to the prison overcrowding issue and I commend them for their leadership and I am urging the Department of the Interior to provide part of the funding for this new prison from unspent Compact sector grants. It is only fair that those who contribute to the problem contribute to the solution.
In the past year, as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Readiness I fought for and we have achieved enormous strides along the path to our goals for the military build-up on Guam. Bottom line – the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam is moving forward and we are finally making significant progress.
The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 marked a significant milestone for the build-up and removed all restrictions on military construction funds for projects related to the realignment of Marines from Okinawa to Guam. The Congress recognized the importance of removing all restrictions on the use of these funds to support the realignment and ensured that the build-up stays on track. These restrictions were undermining our relationship with the Government of Japan and putting the unprecedented direct contributions by the Government of Japan, for this endeavor, at significant risk. This is a huge achievement to move the program forward. I will continue to work with House and Senate leaders to build on this progress over the next several years to ensure that the realignment is beneficial to our community, our relationships with our allies, and the security of our nation.
Last year’s defense bill also authorized $162.4 million in military construction projects on Guam and requires the Defense Department to develop a strategy that will outline the Department’s efforts to support the security aspects of the rebalance strategy. This amount is a 27 percent increase over the amount requested earlier in the year by the President and reflects the increased importance of the work occurring on Guam.
Last month the administration released its budget request for fiscal year 2016 and included $266 million in military construction projects for Guam which nearly doubles the amount requested by the President last fiscal year. The Japanese central government and Prime Minister Abe remain fully committed to the relocation of the Marines which the majority of this funding will support.
While the Obama administration fully supports the development required on Guam, we must remain vigilant to the possibility of sequestration. I strongly support repealing sequestration because it has achieved its purpose. There has been real progress in reducing the federal deficit and debt. But, as we saw in 2013, the impacts of sequestration put real strain on our local communities and undermine our military’s readiness. The temporary reprieve we saw in the last two years will expire and it is up to Congress to repeal this damaging policy. I will work passionately in this year’s defense bill to protect our funding, to eliminate the threat of sequestration, and to ensure the military build-up on Guam is undertaken responsibly. If sequestration is left in place, we risk increasing costs to the military build-up and having it take longer than anticipated. I do not think this is good policy and will continue to work with my colleagues to repeal sequestration.
While we must continue to pay attention and respond to events driven by the barbarity of the Islamic State, the aggression of Russia towards its neighbors, and many other crises around the world we recognize that the Asia-Pacific region remains vital to the security of the United States. Although we have made significant progress in the realignment of Marines from Okinawa to Guam, we must remain mindful that there are some in Congress, particularly in the Senate, who believe the Middle East is our top security priority. I believe we must balance our global responsibilities and the U.S. must remain actively engaged in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole-of-government effort. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that this Administration and Congress support the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. Last year, I authored language that requires the Administration to develop a strategy that would support the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and was modeled off similar strategies developed in the 1990s. This year, I am working with my colleagues like Chairman Randy Forbes, Congressman Mark Takai and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to have the Administration develop an implementation plan that supports and sustains the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region so it endures past this Administration and is something the federal government knows how to resource. I lead this effort, in great part, because of the recommendations and information that comes from stakeholders here on Guam, most notably the Guam-US Asia Security Alliance.
I appreciate their continued effort to highlight Guam’s strategic role in the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. Our ability to rapidly project power in reassurance of our allies and in deterrence of our adversaries is critical to the stability of the region.
Over the past year our community provided input to the Navy’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement which is critical to getting this process right. I expect the final supplemental E.I.S. to be released later this spring. I believe the final supplemental EIS will reflect our community’s concerns and desire to move forward with the realignment of Marines. We expect that the Navy will propose Northwest Field for the firing range, as reflected in the President’s budget, and expects to use existing Defense Department lands in Finegayan for the main base as the preferred alternative. Legislation we developed has allowed the Navy to continue their discussions with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure minimal impact due to the location of the firing range. Although no solution is perfect, I believe that the dialogue we had last year on H.R. 4402 and at the draft supplemental EIS hearings made clear that the people of Guam want the Navy to reduce its footprint and to ensure the firing range has minimum impact on our community. And I thank the Mayor’s Council and the Guam Legislature as we worked through the issues and concerns that H.R. 4402 brought to the public discourse.
I will continue to work with stakeholders to address potential mitigations for the impacts of the firing range. I believe that the concerns of original landowners at Ritidian can be addressed at a local level not unlike other landowner groups who have had some relief. I understand their struggles and will work with the Governor and Legislature on local solutions.
The Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring a net negative change in the amount of Defense Department land on Guam. This year’s news is encouraging and continues to be responsive to our community’s concerns from the past several years. Our “One Guam” approach has had an impact and we are making progress and I appreciate the role of the Governor and the Guam Legislature in working with me on this issue.
I will continue to work to help the Defense Department identify areas where they can make good on their net negative pledge and believe that once the Record of Decision is signed we can engage in productive dialogue about specific parcels of land to achieve this goal. The military build-up is not a partisan issue. It enjoys bipartisan support in Congress and locally. Team Guam is fortunate to have Governor Calvo, Senators Frank Aguon Jr and Jim Espaldon from the Committee on Military Relocation working with me to ensure the build-up is done right.
As always, I have been particularly impressed over the past year by the achievements and accomplishments of our Guam National Guard. I would like to take this time to recognize Major General Benny Paulino for his leadership and stewardship of the Guam National Guard especially during the largest deployment in Guam’s history.
I am very proud of all that our National Guardsmen and women achieve and accomplish in any given year. This year I want to recognize Captain Alvin Alvarez of the Guam Air National Guard. Captain Alvarez, a member of the 254th Security Forces Squadron, was recently awarded the Air National Guard Security Forces Company Grade Officer of the Year. This award is testament to his hard work and commitment to the mission.
We are getting very close to the arrival of Light Utility Helicopters for our Army National Guard and I look forward to the capabilities that they provide. I will fight hard to ensure that the Guam National Guard has a role in supporting various missions on Guam including the missile defense mission. A partnership of active duty soldiers with the Guard may be the best way to see a long-term and cost-effective solution for missile defense on Guam to remain in place. I also support our Air National Guard’s continued work with the Air Force to explore the feasibility of a permanent tanker presence on the island that would support our nation’s defense.
As we continue to praise the efforts of today’s servicemembers, we must always remember to do our utmost to thank their predecessors, our veterans, for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of a grateful nation. We have made commitments to them that must be upheld and, where necessary, enhanced. To this end, we have reinvigorated our Veteran’s Advisory Council, under the leadership of Colonel Diron Cruz and Command Sergeant Major Ben Palacios to propose ways in which we can improve the lives of our veterans on Guam. I also recognize Mr. Bill Cundiff, the Chairman of the Governor’s Veterans Commission, who has worked hand-in-hand with our Veterans’ council. I also want to recognize the Guam’s Veterans Administrator, John Unpingco, for his efforts in using federal funds to improve the Guam Veterans Cemetery.
As always, one of the most important issues for our veterans is health care. I’m pleased to report that the Department of Veterans Administration has included a request for $550,000 in the fiscal year 2016 budget to begin planning and design on a $5.5 million expansion to the community based outpatient clinic. Our efforts have been successful in raising the priority of the clinic expansion on their integrated list of construction priorities. We’ve stuffed as many people and as much equipment as we can into the space we have. Over the past six years the staff at the clinic has increased from ten to thirty people and space is a major concern. Doctor’s exam rooms double as offices and nurses literally sit elbow-to-elbow as they attempt to complete their work. An expansion is absolutely necessary to meet the needs of our Veterans, to bring in more specialty care such as cardiology and optometry to the island, and to improve the working conditions of the staff.
I want to recognize Senator Frank Aguon Jr, Senator Tom Ada and Senator Tony Ada for their untiring efforts to improve the lives of veterans on Guam.
Beyond the expansion of the community-based outpatient clinic, we look to other innovative solutions and public-private ventures to improve the lives and services available to our veterans. Last year, Team C.O.R.E., led by Marlene Slomka, Diron Cruz and Ben Palacios, began an effort to create a veterans’ community living center that provides a full spectrum of services for our veterans. This privately-funded effort will work hand-in-hand with the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand the capabilities for veterans’ health care and veterans benefits on Guam. The best thing about it is that it’s veteran-led and veteran managed. I would like Marlene, Diron and Ben to stand and be recognized.
Recently, Peter Sgro announced a new effort to address veterans’ health care by using private funds to build a future veterans hospital on Guam. This ambitious project would reduce the need for veterans to travel off island for specialty care and would make health care more accessible to more veterans. I support their efforts and will introduce legislation if its needed to implement their plans.
Two years ago I called for the establishment of a veteran’s court on Guam. Under the leadership of Senator Frank Aguon Jr and former Chief Justice Carbullido we were able to enact local legislation and receive federal funding. This program has made a real difference in the lives of veterans who need the compassion and understanding that the veterans’ court provides. And I congratulate the Guam Judiciary and the Superior Court of Guam led by Presiding Judge Alberto Lamorena for the successful implementation of this innovative program.
At the beginning of the 114th Congress, I reintroduced H.R. 44, the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act, which continues past efforts to resolve war reparations for the people of Guam who endured the enemy occupation during World War II. This legacy issue has been an effort that each one of my predecessors and I have worked to resolve, and in each Congress, we have reintroduced a war claims bill.
There have been some in our community who have insinuated that reintroducing war reparations legislation in Congress is a futile effort and that I am wasting time and effort on continuing to push this bill. I disagree with these sentiments and will continue to work towards resolving this issue. Further, continuing to introduce this bill is important to ensure that as Guam works to resolve our political status with the U.S., this issue remains at the forefront and is included in any negotiations to resolve our legacy issues.
Unfortunately, this legacy issue continues to receive strong opposition from conservative members of Congress, primarily in the Senate, who continue to object to the bill on ideological grounds. These senators, who are now on record as opposing the bill, believe that authorizing war claims for Guam would provide a precedent for other minority groups to seek claims for past injustices in our nation’s history. In addition, there is organized opposition to our war claims bill from Grover Norquist and his lobby the Americans for Tax Reform; the Heritage Foundation think tank and Red State blog all powerful conservative interest groups.
While I fully disagree with our opponents, and have continually worked to overcome stated objections on budget issues and compromised on those eligible to receive claims, their underlying objections remain. In my statement of introduction to the bill, I mentioned that I believed that this issue must be resolved or local support for the military buildup would be eroded. I understand how this statement could cause some in our community to believe that making progress on the military buildup is dependent on passage of war reparations; but that it not the case.
I believe that passage of war claims would make it easier to discuss other federal-territorial issues. It would speak to the trust our community has with regard to the federal government and the federal government’s sincerity to being good partners in making Guam better. Understandably there are other legacy issues that we continue to work to resolve, but recognition for our man’amko is a priority for many of our families, and it is a longstanding injustice against our community.
Additionally, I do believe that we must make every effort to resolve this issue for Guam’s greatest generation who endured atrocities during World War II. The experiences that our people suffered through, many of whom were killed or died as a result of the war, were horrific, and we owe it to them to ensure that they are appropriately recognized for their loyalty to the United States and sacrifices during the war.
Congress’ inability to pass this bill does not diminish the extraordinary sacrifices and suffering experienced by our people during World War II, and I know that no bill or amount of money will ever be enough to properly honor the survivors and those who died during the occupation. However it would strengthen the ties our community has with the United States and underscore our role as members of the American family.
I have been approached by legal experts who believe that we should open up another avenue to resolve war claims through a federal lawsuit. I support that proposal and I look forward to more detailed discussion as to how my office can be helpful to that effort. While there is some risk associated with this strategy, I support this proposal because it is becoming clearer than ever that conservatives in Congress will continue to block this bill as evidenced by the legislative record of the past couple of years.
I have been privileged that Guam has been my home for most of my life. I have known many of the survivors of the war personally and many are my family and friends. Regrettably I have also seen many of these individuals pass on without being appropriately recognized by the federal government. I will always continue to fight to right these wrongs for these individuals and the many families who continue to suffer from their experiences during World War II.
This past year, Guam has seen our economy grow, and I was pleased to see that Guam’s unemployment rate continues to decline. Many new jobs have been added as a result of increased tourism, new construction projects—particularly from the military and private investments—and improvements to infrastructure.
I continue my efforts to secure parole authority for Chinese visitors to Guam on the same basis as our friends in the Northern Mariana Islands. In 2008 Congress created a regional visa waiver program with the intent to have the same visitors for both Guam and the CNMI and extension of parole authority for Chinese visitors to Guam will fulfill that intent. However, while this proposal enjoys support from the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense we do not enjoy full support across all federal stakeholders. While the national security concerns need to be addressed, I am confident that there can be adequate mitigation that would not compromise national security while allowing Guam to expand its visitor industry.
As we work to improve our economy, I encourage our local leaders to consider the impacts maintaining a tax system tied to the Internal Revenue Code will continue to have on our local treasury, and whether it is time for us to delink from the federal system. We all understand the implications the challenges of having our tax code tied to the Internal Revenue Code, and with Republicans in the majority in both the House and the Senate there is renewed focus on efforts to reform the federal tax code. The budget realities that we continue to face will make it difficult to obtain federal funding to cover the costs of changes to the code that are meant to improve national tax policy. I urge the Legislature to consider the benefits of delinking. I would also caution that among the several proposals for tax reform that one of them is a proposal to increase the earned income tax credit which harms our local treasury. I am confident that our policymakers understand the needs of our community and will be able to formulate a tax system that truly reflects the programs and policies that best serve our community.
A strong economy will promote a strong workforce with good wages in high quality jobs. One of the most important things to developing our workforce is to have a solid retirement plan. In this regard, I commend Senator Mike San Nicolas for his leadership in reforming the Government of Guam retirement system to ensure the resources will be there when employees reach retirement. I am working with him to include new employees in a retirement program that would include federal social security as part of their retirement benefit.
I continue to work to ensure that Guam benefits from federal grant opportunities and programs aimed at increasing employment and helping families receive the training they need to compete for a job. Recently the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders held a conference at the Guam Community College to help local non-profit groups navigate the federal grant process and share best practices to put forth the most competitive grant application. I continue to support federal appropriations for programs that benefit our island and work diligently to ensure that Guam is included in opportunities for federal funding.
I continue to advocate for federal funding for our local agricultural industry. The Guam Farmers Co-op has made tremendous strides in bringing fresh produce to our markets and I continue to work with them for greater access to the exchanges and commissaries. I look forward to the completion of the Guam Farmers Co-op marketplace in Dededo. I want to recognize their President Ernie Wusstig for his leadership.
As the supplemental EIS process moves forward, so does the Department of Defense Economic Adjustment Committee’s process that is working to re-validate Guam’s civilian infrastructure needs. I have worked hard over the past years to secure appropriations that was requested by the Obama Administration to address the impacts to civilian infrastructure resulting from the current and future military footprint on Guam. However, we still face objections from the Senate to providing authority for the Department of Defense to spend these funds on Guam. I hope the Economic Adjustment Committee’s report that is due out around the Record of Decision will validate, once again, the need to address some of our communities most pressing infrastructure needs.
Additionally, over the past several years the federal government invested millions of dollars to help improve our local infrastructure and build capacity to sustain our growing population. Projects such as the reconstruction of the Hagatna Bridge, on-going repairs to the Chalan Santo Papa bridge, $50 million for port improvements, and continued investments to lengthen and upgrade the airport runway are critical federal investments in our community.
I want to recognize our stakeholders who make it their job every day to do everything they can to build our economy. In that regard, I want to recognize Jeff Jones, Chairman of the Guam Chamber of Commerce and David Leddy, President of the Guam Chamber of Commerce; Lou Leon Guerrero, Chairwoman of the Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce; and George Lai, Chairman of the Guam Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
A sound economy requires a good education system to provide a foundation for families to thrive on our island. I urge all stakeholders to work together to ensure that Guam Department of Education, Guam Community College, and the University of Guam continue to improve educational opportunities for our students.
We have made progress in the last two years and I commend Speaker Judi Won Pat for her efforts to improve education. Superintendent Jon Fernandez has done a remarkable job in his tenure but we still have a long way to go. We should support him and the Board of Education.
I congratulate Senator Nerissa Underwood and the Guam Legislature on the passage of Bill 35-33, the First Generation Trust Fund, which provides a $500 scholarship grant for students who enroll at UOG or GCC upon graduation. We need more innovative strategies like this to help students forge a realistic path to college and to help GovGuam invest in our children’s futures.
I understand that there is both excitement and concern about President Obama’s America’s College Promise proposal, which would be a partnership between the federal government and local government that could provide students with two free years of tuition at community colleges. Together, the territories have received confirmation that the territories will be included once this legislative proposal has been formulated in detail. The territorial delegates will monitor this at the Congressional level to ensure that this proposal will benefit Guam and our students. Dr. Mary Okada has made the Guam Community College an outstanding opportunity for higher education and Dr. Robert Underwood is working to ensure that our students have a seamless transition from high school to the University of Guam. These leaders are laying the groundwork for the future competitiveness of our island in the modern economy. I’d like to recognize Dr. Underwood, Dr. Okada and Superintendent Fernandez.
Many of our community’s young adults want to serve their nation in uniform. I have had the privilege of nominating many young men and women to the military academies over my years in Congress. These young men and women are the best and the brightest from our Guam schools and we wish them the best in their desire to serve our nation.
I also want to recognize the parents of Jonah Whitt and Chloe Gadsen. These two currently attend the US Air Force Academy Preparatory School and are assured of an appointment to the Air Force Academy upon completion of courses at the prep school.
I also want to make special mention of one nominee who has been informed that he has received an appointment to the Naval Academy. Congratulations Jude San Nicolas! And, we just learned a day ago another nominee Megan Schrobat has received an appointment to the Naval Academy Preparatory School.
We hope to hear more good news that our other nominees have been appointed in the coming weeks.
We have a long and proud history of stewardship of our island and our surrounding waters that make it possible for our families to live on Guam.
Climate change is a long-term threat to our natural resources. To fight climate change, we must coordinate across villages and local agencies. And, we must create partnerships between our local and federal government.
I continue to wholeheartedly support funding to various agencies that help us with our resources, from the U.S. Geological Survey, to the Environmental Protection Agency, to the National Institute for Food and Agriculture.
I challenge GovGuam and local organizations to find innovation with every resource they have at their disposal. And as a bright spot I would note that UOG’s Water Environmental Research Institute was named as one of the top 8 water research institutes in the nation. Together, we must find a path forward that balances scarce funding, maximizes scientific research and observation, and prioritizes common sense and ecosystem-based management. In the meantime, I will continue to work in Congress on legislation that will conserve, protect, and cultivate our natural resources.
I have reintroduced the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015 last month, with the support of both senior Republican and Democratic leadership on this issue. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing not only threatens fishing stocks in Pacific waters, it is also a matter of national security for the U.S. and allies, especially here in the Asia-Pacific. Countries like Australia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga have led the way in combating IUU fishing—we on Guam and in the Western Pacific must lead the way and have the U.S. take its place as a leader in international conservation of fisheries.
I continue to monitor NOAA’s effort to list numerous species of coral as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. I understand that of the species listed, there are three on Guam who have been listed as threatened; however, critical habitat will not be pursued under the Endangered Species Act. Let us take this time to work together to responsibly manage these threatened corals and their habitats so that these corals remain healthy, and our way of life is not thrown into imbalance. The health of our corals is the canary-in-the-coal-mine warning system for our island. If our coral is sick then our oceans are warmer and over acidified and our island is at risk. I congratulate Governor Calvo on being appointed to the President’s Commission on Climate Change. Governor, I’ll bet you’re the only Republican who believes in climate change and that is the right direction.
I continue to monitor the potential reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Magnuson-Stevens protects our fisheries, prohibits foreign fishing fleets from our waters, and helps rebuild depleting fish stocks. We must wisely manage and protect these resources, carefully balancing conservation with the economic impacts to our fishermen. I will work with the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council and Guam Fishermen’s Co-op to ensure that any changes help to promote our fishing industry and protect our cultural fishing practices.
I also continue to work to improve health care on island. The Affordable Care Act instituted a number of important industry reforms aimed at increasing access to and the quality of health care throughout the nation. I recognize, however, that the current framework of how Guam and the other territories are included in the law has limited the extent to which health reform applies to our island. I continue to seek solutions that will address any shortcomings in the law.
I am sensitive to the concerns that have been raised by Guam’s insurance providers that the law did not extend the individual and employer mandates to the territories, and I am working with federal partners and local stakeholders to determine the benefits of full incorporation into the ACA. There are local solutions and Administrative remedies that may be available to the Government of Guam to address these concerns, and I will continue to work with Governor Calvo, the Legislature, and insurance providers on this issue. I appreciate the leadership that Senator Dennis Rodriguez Jr has shown in oversight hearings and in working with my office to address these shortcomings.
I also continue to support efforts in Congress to address the downwinder radiation issues raised by the Pacific Association of Radiation Survivors. Legislation has been introduced in the Senate that includes Guam and I have and will again co-sponsor House legislation to this effect. I commend Robert Celestial for his leadership on this issue.
In recent years there has been increased emphasis on teaching and promoting Chamorro language and culture, especially to our youth. Events like the upcoming Festival of Pacific Arts, which Guam will host in 2016, promote our Chamorro culture and help to make the Guam tourist product unique. Our local team that is preparing for the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts are doing an outstanding job and I want to recognize them for their hard work and leadership. The Guam Council on Arts and Humanities is the lead government agency and they are working with the Governor’s Office, the Legislature, the Mayor’s Council and our cultural practitioners to ensure that we host an event that all our people are proud of. I thank all the artists and everyone who have been working diligencty these last two years as we prepare to host the best FESTPAC ever. Biba FESTPAC!
I also commend Senator Tina Muna Barnes for her efforts to build-up and promote a diversified tourism industry and to help find new markets for our tourism product. I also commend Senator Tommy Morrison for promoting our history through his bill which designates Guam History and Chamorro Heritage Day. Guam has a vibrant heritage and the Chamorro culture is the foundation of what makes our island unique and the special paradise that it is. It is critical that we all work together to ensure that our Chamorro culture is passed down to succeeding generations and that our cultural practices and traditions are protected for our children. I will continue to do my part to support these efforts and ensure that federal resources are available for local organizations.
It is my honor to come before you every year to report on federal issues and my work in Congress. While many of these issues are difficult and the task is daunting, I have great optimism for the future of our island. We have weathered many difficulties and many storms and now we are at the brink of a period of prosperity and economic growth for a sustained period. If we do our part and we work cooperatively to solve every challenge that comes our way we can ensure that the community we hope to build and pass onto our children will be realized. Once again it is my honor to serve the people of Guam and I thank you for your trust and confidence. God bless you all, God bless Guam and God bless the United States of America.