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Thursday, August 11, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSENATORS TEAR AT BLOCK GRANT PROPOSAL

SENATORS TEAR AT BLOCK GRANT PROPOSAL

A number of Senators blasted Gov. Charles Turnbull's administration for what they called the haphazard way in which projects were approved to share $2.19 million in federal Community Development Block Grants.
Despite the criticism, and after a barrage of rancorous inter-island squabbling that continued even after the bill was passed and forced a reconsideration, the Legislature approved a revised Block Grant proposal by a vote of 10-2.
"The process under which the selections are made are arbitrary and they're unfair and we saw people coming to petition, probably more than one, against the unfair manner," Sen. Anne Golden said.
Sen. Adelbert Bryan criticized Turnbull for sending the proposal to the Senate just weeks before the federal deadline.
"I personally didn't come to none of these block grant hearings because standard operating procedures around here . . . is all governors wait until last minute to submit these things here and rush these things without anybody having any real input or questions," Bryan said.
The Block Grants are given annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs to fund developments and programs for moderate to low-income residents and in blighted areas.
A total of $887,600 was proposed for the two St. John projects and 14 St. Thomas projects; $877,000 is suggested for 21 St. Croix projects.
The funding for some of the St. Thomas projects: $200,000 to continue construction on the Savan Community Center, $28,160 for Downstreet People's after school program, $20,000 for the V.I. Resource Center for the Disabled's after school program, and $19,000 for the Family Resource Center to rent its shelter and counseling office, and $10,000 for Kidscope's crisis intervention programs.
St. Croix projects include: $125,135 in grants and low interest loans to rehabilitate homes in Frederiksted, more than $110,000 for various projects for the Women's Coalition of St. Croix, approximately $50,000 for a pair of substance abuse rehabilitation programs, $50,000 for Camp Arawak's job training program, and renovations of several baseball parks.
Projects on St. John: $25,000 for the St. John Community Foundation's after school training and counseling programs and $15,000 for the V.I. Resource Center for the Disabled's after school program.
Sens. Lorraine Berry, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Judy Gomez, George Goodwin, Norman Jn.-Baptiste, David Jones, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Allie-Allison Petrus and Vargrave Richards voted for the bill.
Sens. Roosevelt David and Gregory Bennerson voted no.
An amendment by David to give 10 percent of the funds to St. John, and split the rest between St. Thomas and St. Croix drew the fury of Cruzan senators. The amendment was initially passed, but the outrage of St. Croix senators forced a reconsideration, and the amendment was removed.
Berry, who supported Turnbull's proposal, blamed the Legislature for damaging projects by over-amending block grants proposals.
"I think we are not innocent in this body," Berry said. "The reason why many of the projects are not completed, never started or never get off the ground is the amendments made in this body. So you contribute to being irresponsible."
"Many of these proposals are pending. We have over $4.2 million for projects that is balanced. Some of them have never started because there are no drawings, no leases, there's nothing. Just an idea that somebody want to help their constituency," she said.
Despite Berry's admonition, a few amendments were added to the bill.
An amendment offered by Gomez took about $8,000 from Anglican Outreach Services' after school program and gave it to a program to train youths to scuba dive.
"It's sad that two bodies of water surround this island, and we look at the number of marine biologists coming out the territory. It's really sad," Gomez said.
A Cole amendment took all $218,050 proposed for building a Pollyberg community center and allocated it to constructing potable water lines to the Contant Knolls public housing community.
"Water is more important anytime for survival than a center," Hansen said in supporting Cole's amendment.
Bennerson said the Senate should review the selection process.
"When you amend this block grant without properly making sure the percentages are in the right place, you knock this whole bill out of whack," Bennerson said. "But if we're going to be serious about this process, we're going to take this same Senate body, drag that program in here and deal with it as our oversight responsibility."
David threatened the federal government would soon do an audit on the program he said was plagued by political patronage.
"I have a strong feeling that before this block grants is finished a block of people are going to go to jail," David said. "Year after year after year, certain groups of people could get money for this block grant, but they cannot show anything, no progress, no improvement, but they get more money."
More than $400,000 of the grant is used to pay for its administration by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Golden said these costs should be trimmed to make more available for the projects themselves.
"Nine employees in that division take over $400,000 from good project money to run an agency, and they can't come in here and tell us where those projects are, what the buildings look like, no report on the history of these projects," she said.

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