May 3, 2001 Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen went before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday seeking millions of dollars for the territory.
Among the appropriations Christensen requested were $3.5 million to cancel the V.I. governments $45 million Hurricane Hugo community disaster loan and a $10 million infrastructure grant that was promised to the territory by President Clinton in his Fiscal Year 2001 budget. She is also seeking approximately $1 million for the National Park Service to acquire more land at the Salt River National Park on St. Croix.
If Congress approves the re-estimate of the Federal Emergency Management Agency loan for Hurricane Hugo, the territorys $46 million-plus debt would be reduced by nearly 97 percent, leaving a new balance of just over $1 million. Last month, Gov. Charles Turnbull said the federal government has already shifted nearly $45 million into a special account to cover the cost of the writeoff.
The catch is whether Congress, which is now hashing out the fiscal year 2001-02 budget, will appropriate $3.5 million to cover the re-estimated loan balance and interest. That money would likely come from the Interior Department.
"Since 1999, FEMA has recognized that the Virgin Islands is unable to make payments on its Hugo Community Disaster Loan and has granted forbearance, pending action on the governor's cancellation request," Christensen said. "The most effective way for Congress to assist the Virgin Islands in overcoming its fiscal crisis will be to appropriate the modest sum of $3.5 million in FY 2002, which under all circumstances should be more than adequate to cover the cost of canceling the Hugo loan, in full compliance with all provisions of federal law."
Christensen also asked the subcommittee to provide the $10 million included in President Clinton's last budget in recognition of the fiscal crisis facing the territory and as an incentive for the V.I. government to continue implementing cost-cutting and financial accountability measures.
Meanwhile, the efforts by the National Park Service and Christensen to secure an $800,000 appropriation request in President Bush's FY 2002 budget to acquire the Post Office Building in Christiansted were successful.
The Park Service and others have been working since early last year to acquire the historic building in downtown Christiansted from the U.S. Postal Service when the agency announced it was moving its operations. In a letter last year, Christensen tried unsuccessfully to convince the postmaster general to transfer the property to the Park Service, at no cost, for use as a museum chronicling the African slave trade.
But the Postal Service could not transfer the building without compensation because it is bound by a directive from Congress to operate like a business.
"I am very grateful that Bush administration officials recognized the importance of keeping this valuable historic building in the public domain for the benefit of all Virgin Islanders and indeed all Americans," Christensen said. "The appropriation request is a win-win for everyone…"