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Gap between haves, have-nots growing

By Erin Thompson HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 9, 2011) - Poverty is Guam’s greatest problem, and the island is becoming a "mini-Third World island where the gap between the haves and have-nots is becoming larger and larger," according to the latest transition subcommittee report released by the administration of Gov. Eddie Calvo.

The eight-page report, prepared by a nine-member group headed by Dededo Mayor Melissa Savares and clinical psychologist Juan Rapadas, is one of a dozen transition subcommittee reports released recently. The reports are designed to inform the governor about the state of the government he has inherited. The reports span topics including safety, education, health, infrastructure and tourism, and have noted the successes and shortcomings of individual government of Guam agencies.

The subcommittee report on community and social welfare proposed solutions to problems that have left the community "falling into deep, gaping holes in the economy."

Troy Torres, spokesman for the Calvo administration, said the committee’s emphasis on poverty is not unwarranted.

"We’ve seen many of the same facts they outline in their report under the 2009 Comprehensive Housing Study, the unemployment reports, and other reports with data on rising poverty," said Torres. "This is a problem. It’s a problem that requires a community effort behind a strong plan for long-term economic sustainability."

Torres said the administration will create and implement its plan through a "classrooms-to-careers" initiative, and would offer more government support to help struggling families.

The report suggests the government address housing standards so some Guam residents won’t be left out, upgrade infrastructure in high-poverty areas and decentralize community-based services to better address "what is happening on the ground."

A large portion of the report also addresses two issues: the effect of compact-impact migration on the Guam population, and "family fragmentation."

According to the authors of the report, abortion and divorce on the island "show how far Guam and some of its people has strayed from traditional family values and how we have devalued life over the past few decades."

"This has led to the breakdown and fragmentation of Chamorro families and other Guam families which then lead to much social pathology," the report states.

The report’s authors cite statistics stating that single-parent households are disadvantaged compared to a "two-biological-parent" family.

The subcommittee asks that the new administration support policies that "enhance traditional family values," including creating a government-run adoption center, creating incentives to continue the "the traditional institution of marriage" such as making it more difficult to obtain divorce, and creating a "family preservation commission with teeth."

Although Torres called an adoption center a "great idea," Torres said it isn’t feasible right now given GovGuam’s tight finances. He didn’t comment specifically on some of the other proposals suggested, but said the administration wants "to do everything we can to provide families the best environment to raise children and to lead happy lives. This is such a comprehensive subject because there are so many government services involved in improving the quality of life of all the people."

Another theme that runs through the report relates to alleged systemic problems with social programs attributed to the population of Micronesian immigrants on Guam. The report suggests that the local government should:

Ask the federal government to allow regional migrants to send their students to the schools for military dependents, and seek medical care at Naval Hospital;

Seek more funds to pay for public services to regional immigrants;

Create a new charter school to host students from the Federated States of Micronesia;

Ask the federal government to freeze migration from the FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands, and ask for a re-evaluation of the compact agreements that allow the citizens of these island states to enter Guam; and

Change the name of housing projects hosting Micronesian immigrants to help lessen the stereotype against regional migrants.

Torres noted that the subcommittee reports do not reflect actual administration policy.

"Please do not confuse the transition subcommittees’ volunteers’ suggestions as the policy direction of the Calvo-Tenorio administration," Torres said. "They provided us an honest glimpse into the condition of the government in order to prepare us through the transition phase. Not all the recommendations will be adopted."

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