US travel associations call for travel pass policy and easing of restrictions

The Global Business Travel Association, Airlines for America – whose members include the major U.S. carriers,  the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Flight Attendants and other organizations wrote to Jeffrey Zients, the Biden administration’s Covid-19 response team coordinator March 22, saying the guidelines should exempt vaccinated people from international testing rules.Among other recommendations, the groups asked that “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention update its guidance to say that vaccinated people can safely travel,” according to the GBTA.

 The group is also asking the White House to set standards for digital health documents that can show immigration officials proof of vaccinations or test results. Numerous organizations and bodies – from IATA to the European Union are already considering digital verification of vaccination.


The latest in COVID products

Oramed Pharmaceuticals Inc. – an Israeli clinical-stage pharmaceutical company focused on the development of oral drug delivery systems, announced March 21 it entered into agreements to form a joint venture focused on the development of novel oral COVID-19 vaccines. The new company, Oravax Medical Inc., is based on Oramed’s “proprietary oral delivery technology and Premas Biotech Pvt. Ltd.’s novel vaccine technology.”

Oravax anticipates commencing a clinical study during the second quarter of 2021.

SaNOtize Research and Development Corp. has been clinically trialing a nasal spray that claims to be capable of killing 99.9% of COVID virus particles. The product has started rolling off production lines in an Israeli factory.” Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey, UK, and Berkshire and Surrey Pathology Services, UK, … announced results of clinical trials indicating that SaNOtize’s Nitric Oxide Nasal Spray … represents a safe and effective antiviral treatment that could prevent the transmission of COVID-19, shorten its course, and reduce the severity of symptoms and damage in those already infected,” the partners said on March 15.

In other COVID news, Esther Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Heathcare Corp. said in a March 26 media briefing that Johnson & Johnson vaccinations would be offered to people aged 65 and older who would prefer to get one dose. For those who did not want to take that vaccine, she said the NMI offered other options.


Expectations high for Build Back Better funds for islands

Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres and Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero both submitted testimony to the March 24 House Committee on Natural Resources hearing on “How the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better Plan can benefit the U.S. Territories.”

Torres said the Northern Mariana Islands had 60 days to turn it an expenditure plan. “There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said during a March 26 media conference. Infrastructure he referred to in his testimony covered roads, utilities to include landfills, ports and airports and labor issues.  The governor told the Journal that with any funds, processes would be fast-tracked. “We cannot wait six months to a year for pending permits.” As to labor issues that impact infrastructure, Torres also raised those during his testimony, as the current CW-1 cap was set at 3,000 contract workers for fiscal years 2020 through 2022. “I hope they give us more flexibility; that in itself helps a lot,” he said. The ultimate goal is to build local capacity, he said. “I believe we do have the manpower here – not enough, but enough to stimulate the economy.” The governor also talked of support for the Northern Marianas Technical Institute as well as support to delay any federal minimum wage increase in the NMI.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced the provision for the NMI of $9.1 million in capital improvement funds for renovations to utilities, schools, clinics and the Commonwealth Healthcare Center. Torres said in 1978 the NMI received $27 million in CIP funding. “Through the years it’s dropped down to $9 million.” He said he has asked if it could go back up again. 

Both Guam and the NMI would like to see new hospitals.

On March 24, the first meeting of the Medical and Public Health Services Action Plan Task Force was held virtually in Guam. Its chairwoman is Lillian P. Posadas, administrator of the Guam Memorial Hospital. The Leon Guerrero-Tenorio Administration applied for funding through the Office of Economic Adjustment to update and expand the 2012 hospital study to include the development of a medical complex with the Department of Public Health and Social Services and Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center. Additionally, the Department of Land Management and GEDA have been surveying sites for consideration of the new build.  Mangilao has been mentioned as a location, according to Journal files. For an in-depth look at the Guam Memorial Hospital, see, “A spoonful of sugar, GMH patches and makes do while it waits,” in the Aug. 19, 2019 issue of the Journal, or online at

Leon Guerrero testified as to Guam’s progress and in addition called for extending Supplemental Security Income eligibility to Guam. She also argued for establishing a Regional Veterans Affairs office in Guam and further reiterated her intent to apply for a substantially underserved trust area grant to develop Chamorro Land Trust Commission properties. 

 As part of her economic recovery plan, she called for a reexamination of Federal Highway Funds for territories to support infrastructure redevelopment, state designation treatment for Guam’s Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture offices to directly elevate the needs of local small businesses and farmers, and an expedient federal approval process for H-2 workers to support private sector development.    


NMI economic group solidifying diversification targets

Alexander A. Sablan, vice president at Tan Holdings and member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors said the council was working on 13 recommendations to diversify the Northern Mariana Island Economy. Speaking at a March 26 media briefing, he said the council was looking at higher echelon jobs and long-range ideas, citing the success of a cyber security firm doing business in the NMI. “A good portion of the 13 recommendations are going to be pushed out this year,” he told the Journal. The aim is for the NMI to be a world class destination with the same standards of cleanliness and level of development as the Hawaiian island of Kauai.


GIA to discount costs for airlines; digital customs form out

The board of directors of the A.B. Won Pat International Airport Authority, Guam is instituting an airline recovery program, in which any U.S. or foreign-based airline with scheduled passenger air service to Guam at least once a week will be eligible for a discount in operational costs, which the airport will cover. The discount will range from 25% to 50%, depending on number of flights per week and airline.

“I think some flexibility is warranted as well [with the discounts] … 100% of zero is zero, at least 50% of something is something,” said Board Chairman Brian Bamba at the board’s March 25 meeting. The program was pitched to start on May 1 and end on July 31, but Bamba opted to extend the program until the end of the fiscal year, or Sept. 30.

“It would be a great start to move forward,” said Lucy M. Alcorn, GIAA director. The board also discussed COVID testing at the airport for departing passengers.

 The international arrival corridor and the third-floor construction were also discussed, with numerous project parts having been extended to the end of April and beyond.

During the Guam Visitors Bureau’s March 25 board meeting, GVB President and CEO Carl T.C. Gutierrez announced the new electronic declaration form, or customs form, is live as of March 25. A second launch will occur in mid-April to allow travelers to access the form on any WiFi enabled device. The form may be accessed and completed up to 72 hours prior to arrival on Guam.

“It’s our job to get out into the community and ready ourselves for the opening,” Gutierrez said. Guam’s Department of Public Works has allocated $100,000 for the storm drain culvert repairs for cleaning and solving the Tumon flooding problem, he said. Gutierrez also said that of the five derelict buildings selected in Tumon, DPW has fixed two, torn down one, and is waiting to come to an agreement with the other.

Gerald S.A. Perez, vice president of GVB, said Hotel Occupancy Tax or HOT bonds that were release last week sold out in 15 minutes, with 95 investors placing $1 billion in total orders. He also said GVB is launching a five-minute vlog series expanding participation and ownership of the governor’s tourism reopening initiative.


Guam HOT Bond a winner, Lost Wages waiver approved for Guam and NMI

The Guam Hotel Occupancy Tax refunding bond sale on March 19 exceeded all expectations in refunding the Series 2011 Hotel Occupancy Tax Bonds, with savings in the current fiscal year in excess of $3 million, according to a March 24 release from the Office of the Governor. Savings are to be dedicated to Guam’s tourism recovery efforts, the release said.

The HOT Bond closing is scheduled for the late hours of March 31. 

In other GovGuam news, Guam’s request for a waiver of the 25% matching fund requirement for the Lost Wages Assistance Program was approved, saving upwards of $11 million according to a March 24 release. The LWA Program provides eligible claimants a supplemental payment of $300 per week, for up to six weeks, in addition to their weekly unemployment benefit amount. To date, the Guam Department of Labor has issued nearly $35 million as part of the LWA Program, according to the release from the Office of the Governor.

The Northern Mariana Islands has also seen its request for the waiver approved.


Rev&Tax division to move; credit card waiver to continue


Dafne Mansapit-Shimizu, director of the Guam Department of Revenue and Taxation told Guam Chamber of Commerce members that online services have been increasingly utilized with vehicle registrations rising from 4,000 to more than 26,000. Other online services include e-filing of 1040 tax forms, which saw an increase from 800 in 2018, to 2,000 in 2019 and 3,000 in 2020 for tax filing. “That’s exciting for us, as we’re only about a month into our filing season,” Mansapit-Shimizu said. Upcoming enhancements will include renewals of driving licenses and REAL IDs on-line, she said. “Those are probably two of the larger ones,” she said. She confirmed that business licenses cannot be applied for online, although forms are posted on  

The membership submitted a lot of questions that were asked by Chamber President Catherine S. Castro. In response to those, Mansapit-Shimizu said there are at present no complete or final plans to decentralize some of the 20 branches and 180 employees housed in the present building in Barrigada, or to find a new campus.  “We recognize that during this public health emergency it was challenging to operate in the building we are in,” she said. However, “The first step is going to move out vehicle registration,” Mansapit-Shimizu said, with that likely to occur in April.

For 2019 refunds, Rev&Tax began paying refunds by direct deposit in January, she said. Direct deposit of upcoming stimulus payments Manapit-Shimizu said is “more of a [Department of Administration] initiative. It’s in discussion and in the works.”

For the past couple of months, she said, “All of our agency personnel are here – 100% of them.”

As to working with the Guam Police Department and the Mayors Council of Guam on ownership of abandoned cars, she said, “Our law enforcement agencies do have some access to our systems.”

The manned help desk has been busy with an estimated 20 calls an hour, she said. “We’re continuing to work to expand those efforts.” Additionally, the drop box is cleared on a daily basis, she said. The team is “working to address the backlog,” she said.

The Rev&Tax system will be updated to address the business license fee credit, which as of March 5 will be applied retroactively for one year and through the end of fiscal 2022, or Sept. 30. As for credit card fees, which are currently not being applied, Manapit-Shimizu said, “It was a priority of the governor that those fees are not being charged.” She could not say how long that would continue, she said.

In other chamber news, chairwoman Christine Won Pat Baleto said the chamber’s next efforts will be directed at the rollback of Business Privilege Tax in Guam from 5% to 4%. In addition to the $660 million the government of Guam will receive through the American Recovery Plan Act, it will receive $60 million for the fully-funded Earned Income Tax Credit. “These initiatives will more than compensate for the rollback of GRT by 1%,” Baleto said.

In its most recent member survey, the rollback was the issue of highest concern, followed by whether a delay in the minimum wage increase would occur, she said.

Mark Sablan, vice president of South Pacific Petroleum Corp. and vice chairman of the Armed Forces Committee of the Chamber; said, “The AFC is working on bringing back our quarterly membership meeting.” He also recognized the varied role of the Guam Guard in COVID-19 initiatives. “The Guam Guard has been a tremendous asset throughout the pandemic,” he said. 


Loan and grant updates

The U.S. Small Business Administration Sis increasing the maximum amount small businesses and non-profit organizations can borrow through its COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. From April 6, the SBA is raising the loan limit for the COVID-19 EIDL program from six months of economic injury with a maximum loan amount of $150,000 to up to 24 months of economic injury with a maximum loan amount of $500,000, according to a March 25 release.

Businesses that receive a loan subject to the current limits do not need to submit a request for an increase at this time.  SBA will reach out directly via email and provide more details about how businesses can request an increase closer to the April 6 implementation date.  Any new loan applications and any loans in process when the new loan limits are implemented will automatically be considered for loans covering 24 months of economic injury up to a maximum of $500,000, according to a March 25 release.

The Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources reminds eligible fishers who registered between June and July 2020 to apply for the CARES Act Fisheries Relief Fund that application packets are due by March 31. mbj