Travel and transport updates:
- Hawaii’s pre-travel testing program will include visitors from Taiwan from April 17. An April 13 release from the Office of the Governor of Hawaii listed 10 testing sites approved by Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare. There are no direct flights to Hawaii from Taiwan yet, though China Airlines did fly the route. Travelers from Southern California’s Ontario International Airport have also been added.
- The April 17 flight from Taiwan to Palau has been canceled due to lack of bookings, but the April 21 flight is still scheduled. The price of the flights and quarantine restrictions on return to Taiwan are due to change and certain visitors fees are due to reduce, according to Taiwan media.
- Korean Air will trial the International Air Transport Association’s Travel Pass app on the Incheon-Los Angeles KE011 flight in May, after an internal test in April, according to its website.
- United Airlines revenue was down 66% in the first quarter 2021, compared to the same quarter in 2019. United announced it intends to commence a private offering to raise $5.5 billion and seek additional loan facilities to raise a total of $10.75 billion, according to Nasdaq Inc.
In other United news, the airline announced in an April 13 release from Chicago that it has launched Eco-Skies Alliance, through which it will work with nearly a dozen corporations on an effort that emphasizes sustainable aviation fuel.
- Matson Inc. announced April 16 preliminary first quarter results. “Guam volume was 2.0% higher, primarily due to higher demand for sustenance and home improvement goods, partially offset by lower tourism activity as result of the pandemic,” the release said. Other containers volume (to islands in the Micronesia region, the South Pacific and Okinawa) decreased 2.4%.
Matson’s chairman and CEO said, “Currently, significant supply chain congestion continues, particularly at the California ports and these conditions will most likely persist through the second quarter and into the traditional peak season. We also expect demand in the Transpacific trade lane to remain favorable as elevated consumption trends, including heightened e-commerce activity are expected to continue beyond the second quarter.”
The shipping group reported it expects first quarter 2021 operating income for Ocean Transportation of $110 million to $155 million and Logistics operating income of about $6 million, with first quarter net income to be $80 million to $115 million.
Guam MilCon bundled to off-island companies; carrier group back
AECOM Technical Services Inc. of Los Angeles, Calif. was awarded an $80 million modification to increase an architectural and engineering contract to $220 million. According to an April 16 release from the U.S. Department of Defense, 25% of the work will be performed in Guam. Work to be completed by August 2022 and the award was made by Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific.
ManTech SRS Technologies Inc. of Herndon, Va. was awarded April 13 a maximum-value $100 million architectural and engineering contract for range sustainability services for military training and testing range complexes and assets at various locations worldwide, with 15% of the work to be done in Guam. Work is due to be completed by April 2028, with the award made by NAVFAC San Diego, Calif.
In other military news, ships from the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier group are in Guam again for a supply stop. The carrier last visited in February, according to Journal files.
Personnel will be limited to the pier, according to an April 16 release from Joint Region Marianas.
NMI government working on ARPA plan; set to move permitting online
Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said his cabinet will meet the week of April 19 to plan for how the estimated $515 million of American Rescue Plan Act finding will be spent. “Our goal is to push hard,” he told the Journal. At an April 16 news conference, he told the Journal ARPA funding would provide better service to businesses looking to the Northern Mariana Islands.
David DLG Atalig, secretary of the Department of Finance said about $62 million in stimulus funding was distributed to residents. “We are working on people whose accounts were frozen or closed,” he said. As to ARPA funding, he said, “As all the states and territories – we are still waiting for the U.S. Treasury to put out guidelines.”
Atalig told the Journal the Department of Finance’s migration from its “very old legacy system” is a positive. The new web-based system, he said is “more adaptive to government accounting. It is compatible for all services in our government.” The system offers recording of federal grants and real time data, he said. As for the permitting process, he said of all agencies involved, “They’ll have joint information.” Equally, he said applicants can go online to check progress. “We will start implementing in the summer,” he said with a goal of introduction in 2022.
Esther L. Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Health Corp., said as of April 15, 35,132 people or 48% had received COVID vaccination shots with 36% fully vaccinated. The NMI is awaiting a team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services to set up another vaccination site in Saipan. What that will offer, Muna said is an increase in vaccinations. “We are looking to double the number.” The NMI was due to vaccinate 528 people on April 16, she told the Journal.
As to a target of mid-June to re-open for tourism, Muna said, “At the rate we’re going, I believe we’re going to get there.” She still has concerns as to what the hospital can maintain and that people continue to follow guidelines and wear masks, even if vaccinated. As to people in public not wearing masks in Saipan, she said, “I’ve seen some.”
The NMI does not yet have a plan to share on requirements if quarantine for arrivals is lifted. Warren Villagomez, chairman of the COVID-19 task force said the contract with the Kanoa Resort allowed for sudden closure and is on a room by room needs basis. “We can terminate at any time.”
In other NMI news, the Department of Commerce has implemented a new (higher) fee structure, which can be found at http://www.cnmilaw.org/pdf/cmc_section/T4/4205.pdf
GEDA seeks money for unfunded rental assistance and grants
Melanie R. Mendiola, administrator at the Guam Economic Development Authority announced an American Rescue Plan request to Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero, which includes $1.8 million to close out rent assistance grant from last year, as some businesses are still waiting; an additional $31 million in economic recovery grants for small business farmers; and funds for economic diversification initiatives.
GEDA’s fourth round of the qualifying certificate grant program is in full swing, with 26 downloads of the application, as of April 15. The deadline to apply for the fourth round is the last week of April. Speaking at the GEDA board of directors meeting on April 15, Mendiola said this round will be slightly different. “We’re deducting points if you’ve received a large sum of money in the last 12 months,” she said.
The directors also discussed mid-year budget maintenance, with Vice Chairman of the Board Ernesto V. “Jun” Espaldon Jr. noting “Our approach was to be very conservative about our expenses.” Espaldon also said that GEDA had $1.1 million total gains for this quarter.
GEDA gave out $300,000 for the qualifying certificate grant program in March.
In other GEDA news, the group is working with Guam’s Department of Public Works to upgrade Chamorro Village from huts to “something more useful,” Mendiola said.
COVID-19 related Guam and NMI updates:
- With Guam in “Pandemic Condition of Readiness 3,” restaurants and places of worship can now operate at 75% occupancy from April 16. Places of worship must get plan approval from the Guam Department of Health and Social Services, according to an April 14 release. Bars and taverns remain at 50%.
- The Guam Department of Labor has paid out more than $567.2 million in unemployment benefits as of March 15, according to an April 15 release. Overall GDOL has paid out $280.2 million in PUA, $253.2 million in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and $33.8 million in Lost Wages Assistance. The largest batch came in the week ending June 27, 2020 and totaled $77.7 million. The next largest payment of $61.2 million was paid out for the week ending Aug. 8, 2020. Out of about 29,000 claimants, 15,291 identified as female, and 13,345 identified as male. A small number of people opted not to disclose their gender, 136. Most applicants were between the ages of 25-54 with a total of 18,128 people. Senior citizens 55 years and older totaled 5,373. Youth 16-24 totaled 5,273. GDO cautioned that the numbers may be skewed owing to fraudulent claims.
- The Northern Mariana Islands Department of Labor’s Benefit Unit as at March 31 is looking at 3,001 cases and $21 million of overpayments, which include fraudulent claims and overpayments due to employment status.
- Guam (to include Naval Hospital Guam) and the NMI will cease using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the foreseeable future based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidance, according to various releases.
- The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs announced April 15 $497,248 in CARES Act funding for the Northern Mariana Islands to “enhance and strengthen government programs for reviewing and providing pandemic unemployment benefit funds in the territory.”
- The Governor of Guam’s Community Outreach Federal Programs Office is seeking community input with regard to updating Guam’s four-year State Implementation Plan for U.S. Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women grant funding for services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in Guam. Stakeholders such as government agencies, non-government organizations, community-based organizations and culturally specific organizations are invited to a Zoom meeting on the process of updating the four-year 2022 – 2025 State Implementation Plan for these grants on April 21 at 2 p.m. For more information, contact Jayne Flores, GCOFPO Administrator, at [email protected].gov or by calling 475-9162. Advance registration is required by clicking on https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYucuGqqDwoGtDrYDrrQ7BfNbFNfDJTtpxE
Guam Memorial Hospital audit reflect its fiscal realities; senators launch construction bill
The Office of Public Accountability released the Guam Memorial Hospital report on April 13. “COVID-19 will continue to challenge GMHA’s finances, particularly with declines in-patient census and the reliance on Government of Guam subsidies funded by Business Privilege Taxes and the General Fund. As GMHA recovers from disrupted revenue streams, GMHA will seek federal assistance afforded to healthcare providers to recover lost revenues,” the report said.
GMH showed a $7.8 million decrease in Net Patient Revenues, which decreased to $91.3 million in fiscal 2020 due to increases in allowances for uncollectible accounts. “GMHA’s patient/payer mix consists mainly of the 3M’s (Medicaid, Medicare, and MIP patients), third-party payers, and self-pay patients. Of the $177.7 million in gross patient revenues, $66.0 million were contractual adjustments based on costs … and $20.4 million was determined uncollectible from self-pay patients. This means only 51% or $91.3 million was determined collectible, the report said. Collections increased by $20.7 million from $83.7 million in fiscal 2019 to $104.4 million in fiscal 2020. The full report can be found on www.opaguam.org.
Sen. Joe S. San Agustin and Vice Speaker Tina Rose Muña Barnes on April 15 introduced Bill 121-36 “after meeting with GMH Administrator Lillian Posadas, DPHSS Director Art San Agustin, and GBHWC Director Therese Arriola,” the release said. “The Twenty-First Century Healthcare Center of Excellence Construction Act of 2021 was introduced to allow for the construction of a Healthcare Campus on Guam, to be inclusive of the Guam Memorial Hospital Authority, the Department of Public Health and Social Services, as well as the Guam Behavioral and Wellness Center. This proposal would allow the Guam Economic Development Authority to enter into a contract with a private contractor to finance, design, construct and maintain a new 21st Century Healthcare Center of Excellence,” the release said.
The office of the vice speaker told the Journal funding could come from Earned Income Tax Credit funding of $35 million, since the federal government will now pay that rather that the Government of Guam, with $35 million thereafter for 29 years allocated for expenses including maintenance, upgrades and upkeep of the facility as well as its technical infrastructure. This would allocate more than $1 billion to the hospital for 29 years.
“Additionally, we included that while the new hospital is being built, the contractor is also responsible for the current GMH,” the vice speaker’s office said.
Hertz Asia Pacific announced April 16 that Triple J Rentals, a division of Triple J Enterprises Inc. will add Dollar value brand to its other Hertz rentals and will co-brand Hertz and Dollar in Guam and Saipan. mbj