BY BERNADETTE H. CARREON
KOROR, Palau —The previous Senate failed to move forward with the extension of the Cross Act or extension of pandemic assistance to displaced workers — Palauan or foreigners —, making it a decision of the the new government of President Surangel Whipps Jr. whether to refile the measure or not.
The Cross Act will expire Jan. 31 and it’s as yet unknown if another bill will be introduced to extend the aid.
Prior to being sworn in as head of state, Whipps said he does not believe that foreign workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic should receive aid from the government.
In December, President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. submitted a bill extending the Cross Act or allowing financial assistance for businesses and the unemployed until Sept. 30, 2021. The bill was also supported by the incoming president.
While the previous House of Delegates passed the bill, the Senate said it will be left to the next Congress to address,
“Regulations will take time. The fastest way to make amendments is through the legislative process. The bill could be further improved and it should not take too long,” Whipps said.
He wants the bill to exclude foreign workers from the assistance, saying employers should send them home if they can longer pay their salaries.
After Jan. 31, Whipps said there are 3,000 plus people who will be without jobs; about 1,200 are foreigners and more than 1,800 are locals. He said those Palauans could replace the 1,200 foreign workers that are being subsidized or employed by the government through the job placement program in the CROSS Act.
Remengesau warned the incoming government against excluding foreign workers, who he said is the country’s responsibility.
“I just want to caution that we also consider the reputation of Palau. There are many countries around the world that are at the borderline of human rights violations. They couldn’t take care of their foreign workers and when the COVI-19 started they didn’t offer them a helping hand. Businesses laid off their employees, and they were left to sleep on the streets and hungry; … they went to ask Red Cross and others for assistance. Only in Palau we really realize our true Palauan spirit — our cultural values that when someone drifts to our shores, we take them in and help them, and also in our Christian values to not let others suffer, even though they are from another country,” Remengesau said in a Jan. 13 press conference.
Whipps disagrees with Remenegsau saying that while foreign workers who are working are not going to be affected, he doesn’t believe in giving handouts to them.
“But I think Palau has been the most generous country in the world to accommodate the workers for the last nine months,” Whipps said.
He said Palau is living on borrowed money and the limited resources it has should go to the Palauan people.
However, he said he is also willing o listen to a discussion on the bill, since some sectors are saying that excluding foreign workers could further burden Palauan employers who are struggling from the pandemic impacts. mbj