Delegate Stacey Plaskett met with House Speaker Paul Ryan, (R-WI), other congressional leaders and White House officials this week.
“My meeting on Tuesday with Speaker Ryan was very productive. The overall objective was to make house leadership privy to the issues affecting our islands as well as the current financial crisis and to clarify the difference between our fiscal situation and that of Puerto Rico," Plaskett said in a statement.
"I also stressed my hope to continue being proactive in informing congressional leadership and highlighting legislation that address broader structural fixes for the Virgin Islands and the other insular territories,” she said.
Investors have grown concerned about the territory’s ongoing reliance on debt to finance working capital, leading to progressive credit downgrades, an unsuccessful bond sale Jan. 11, and some analysts predicting the territory will eventually have to restructure its debt as Puerto Rico has done.
Talking about the territory’s fiscal situation, Plaskett told Ryan, "Although the Virgin Islands has a higher debt ratio per capita than Puerto Rico, its bond obligations are well secured from specific pledged and segregated revenue streams."
She also stressed Congress could do more.
“In recent years, Congress has not acted in a proactive manner to exercise its responsibilities established under the Constitution," she said.
"Funding disparities in the treatment of the Virgin Islands across a range of federal programs, as compared to states, has been a major contributing factor to the financial difficulties facing the Virgin Islands and the territories. I believe there must be a broader discussion that speak to these disparities.”
Plaskett said, “There are a number of bills that have been introduced by the territorial representatives – individually and jointly – in the last Congress and again in the 115th Congress that, if passed, would address many of these issues.”
One factor that could have a big impact on the territory would be to lift the federal cap on V.I. Medicaid. States receive funding based on need, while territories get much smaller, lump sum payments. Also the Earned Income Tax Credit applies to all 50 states but not the USVI or Puerto Rico. Changing these to include the USVI would mean millions of dollars in direct revenue to the territories, she said.
Plaskett and her predecessor Donna Christensen consistently pushed for these changes but to no avail so far.
President Barack Obama’s administration issued a series of recommendations that included these changes as well as increased investment, but the GOP-led Congress did not take them up. (See Related Links below) Now there is a new GOP-led administration, under President Donald Trump, along with GOP control of both houses of Congress.
Plaskett said that although there is much uncertainty in Washington at the moment, she is eager to work with her colleagues toward the issues impacting the Virgin Islands.