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SENATORS SEE NEED WHERE CDBG FUNDS CAN'T HELP

Aug. 16, 2002 – While St. John Rescue won't get any of this year's federal Community Development Block Grant money, all five senators at Friday's Senate Committee of the Whole meeting in Cruz Bay pledged their support of funding for the volunteer organization.
"You provide us with a list of equipment," urged Sen. Carlton Dowe, noting that the Senate is now wrapping up work on the government's Fiscal Year 2003 budget. Dowe chairs the Rules Committee, which on Aug. 22 is scheduled to take up the version approved by the Finance Committee a week ago
St. John Rescue asked for $136,172 for a new vehicle. However, equipment purchases are not eligible for CDBG funding under the federal guidelines, according to Laurence Joshua, director of the block grant program at the Planning and Natural Resources Department.
The organization will be able to pay for the vehicle thanks to an appropriation already made by the Senate. Martin Alperen, St. John Rescue president, said the organization applied for block grant funding before the money from the Senate came through but still needs funding to equip the vehicle and pay for training.
The senators also heard from several other groups asking for funding. Ivy Moses, founder and chief executive of Helping Others in a Positive Environment, requested $340,000 to buy a building to house residents with HIV/AIDS. However, Joshua said her proposal came in well after the deadline. "We didn't have enough time to look at it. We'll work toward next year," he said.
Moses said the number of HIV/AIDS cases continues to increase locally. She said six people alerted personnel in the Health Department's HIV/AIDS area, where Moses works, that they were infected during a four-day period earlier this month.
While the HOPE program would be based on St. John, she said, the residential facility would be on St. Thomas.
Senators said they would look into other funding sources to help Moses get the program off the ground. "I'm encouraged by your enthusiasm for problems most people don't want to look at," Sen. Lorraine Berry said.
The governor's recommendations for CDBG funding does include a $25,000 grant to build a playground at George Simmonds Terrace, a V.I. Housing Authority community. Joshua again said the money could not go toward equipment, but he said it could be used for such things as installing a sandbox and fencing.
Jerome Johns, a Housing Authority planner, said the playground would be for the 35 children under age 12 who live in the community. He said residents asked for the playground and that the Housing Authority would spend $15,000 of its own money to "support this initiative."
Joshua said the governor also recommended block grant funding of $15,000 for an afterschool program at Julius E. Sprauve School conducted by the V.I. Resource Center for the Disabled. The agency had asked for $25,000. The program provides computer training and homework assistance to disabled youths.
Claudette Lewis, DPNR assistant commissioner, said the territory is to receive $1.95 million as its 2002 block grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. But she said applications for funding received from government and not-for-profit agencies across the territory totaled $10.8 million.
In addition to the two projects on St. John, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull approved 15 others on St. Thomas for a total of $740,000, making $780,000 in the district. He also recommended 10 projects also totaling $780,000 for St. Croix. Joshua said the other $390,000 of the grant is to go for administering the territory's CDBG program.
There was some criticism that only two projects on St. John were approved, but Joshua said only three organizations applied for funding, not counting the HIV/AIDS housing project.
"Obviously, many people are discouraged. It's obvious you need to do more educational programs. St. John should have its fair share," Berry told Joshua.
Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, who chaired the meeting, announced as an aside that work would begin soon on a 24-unit subsidized home-ownership project to be located uphill from the Calabash Boom senior citizens center.
The project comes under the V.I. Housing Finance Authority umbrella. Liburd said the Senate several years ago appropriated nearly $500,000 to be used as subsidies. He said subsidies were necessary given the high cost of houses in St. John.
In addition to Liburd, Berry and Dowe, Sens. Roosevelt David and Donald "Ducks" Cole also attended the hearing.

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