Businesses in Palau are urging President Surangel Whipps Jr. and the members of Congress to ensure that workers, both Palauans and foreigners get the assistance they need to get through the COVID-related economic crisis.

The Palau Chamber of Commerce (PCOC) in a January 26 letter addressed to President Whipps, said the proposed measure before the Olbiiil Era Kelaulau that will extend the CROSS Act, which expired on January 31, is a “crucial legislation” that will impact tourism-related businesses.

“There is some worry that these funds may cease, either all together or for foreign workers. We believe that stopping these assistance funds would have a large negative impact..without this assistance it is our worry that people may end up hungry, homeless, desperate and this might lead to an increase in crime and the resulting burden to both society and the government,” PCOC stated.

In the public hearing conducted by the Senate yesterday on the extension of the Cross Act, senators expressed confidence that the measure will be approved by the OEK but while most lawmakers agree to extend the aid that will still include the foreign workers, eventually the final decision has to be made by the president.

Sen. Jonathan Isechal said it’s his position that Congress pass the measure “as it is, and “give the ball” to the president to decide whether the regulation accompanying the measure would involve aid to foreign workers.

Sen. Secilil Eldebechel, chair of the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance said the Senate will want to ensure that relief will continue to the business community that is impacted by COVID-19 but “at the same time gives the president the opportunity to work with Congress to formulate a longer period assistance.”

President Whipps has made known his policy of focusing assistance to Palauans, which could leave out some of the foreign workers that were subsidized or employed by the government under the job placement program under the first CROSS Act.

Several foreign workers trooped to Ngarachamayong yesterday hoping to attend the public hearing, but not everyone was accommodated due to the limited space.

Sen. Eldebechel said most senators recognize that foreign workers are part of Palau’s “nation-building and we wanted to make sure if the government does not support them how much impact would it have on the overall economic development for Palau.

“We don’t want to sacrifice losing the foreign labor at the risk of more effect to the economy,” he said.

In PCOC’s letter to President Whipps, the organization also appealed that workers be allowed to work additional hours for their employers and receive payment via the Cross Extension Act.

President Whipps said previously that the CROSS Act could be further improved by legislation and that foreign employees that are no longer employed are responsibilities of the employers. Palau is using borrowed monies to fund these employees and need to be more accountable as these funds will need to be paid back.

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