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Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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Recycling in the USVI: Part 1, Government Action and Inaction

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, household waste of every kind goes in one bag and ultimately winds up in the landfill in Anguilla on St. Croix or Bovoni on St. Thomas. Both of these sites have been slated for closing for years.
Economic Development Authority CEO Kamal Latham responds to questions from the Finance Committee Monday. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, USVI Legislature)

Senate Considering Bill to Tighten and Clarify EDC Tax Break Rules

The Economic Development Authority’s Chief Executive Officer Kamal Latham on Monday told the Senate Finance Committee that the EDA's board remained neutral to parts of proposed legislation affecting the agency.
Adrian Wade Taylor answers a question at Tuesday’s budget hearing. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the U.S. Virgin Islands)

Waste Management Problems Pile Up With No Clean Answer

The V. I. Waste Management Authority is $24 million in debt and facing a budget cut of 17 percent. Sen. Novelle Francis at Tuesday's Senate Committee on Finance budget hearing called the situation a travesty. 'We need to pay these people,' he said.
Lawrence Kupfer discusses WAPA's Transformation Plan during an interview Monday. (Source photo by sap)

Time is Running Out to Face WAPA’s Realities

WAPA's issues, including debt, substantial cost overruns on the VITOL propane conversion project, and long-term non-payment of bills by government agencies, could leave U.S. Virgin Islanders in the dark.
Gov. Albert Bryan speaks at Monday's news conference. (Image captured from the V.I. Government's livestream of the press conference)

Bryan Calls for Tighter Laws in Response to Continuing Violence

The V.I. Police Department will will step up enforcement of all laws big and small in an effort to curb violence in the territory, and Gov. Albert Bryan urged changes to permitting rules, passage of a loitering laws and stricter bail rules.
Royson Fabien, owner of Fabien Trucking LLC, tells senators about his plans to improve the government land he hopes to rent. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, USVI Legislature)

Trucking Companies Plan to Invest in Rented Government Properties

Both Dadlie’s Trucking Service Inc. and Fabien Trucking LLC have requested long-term lease agreements for government property in Sub Base, and each owner plans to spend $100,000 to restore the hurricane damaged properties if they are OK'd.
From left, Ramon Guerrito, Angie Zays-Ortiz, Carlos Escolar and Patrick Farrell listen to the concerns of veterans. (Source photo by Kyle Murphy)

Health Care Major Concern for Veterans at Town Hall

Concerns about getting services to veterans in the U.S. Virgin Islands centered primarily on health care, with vets telling a town hall meeting Thursday on St. Thomas that the current system requires veterans to frequently travel to Puerto Rico for treatment.

USVI Kicks Off Competition at 2019 Pan American Games

Team ISV’s delegation will be represented by nearly 50 athletes, coaches, support staff and officials for the duration of the Games which takes take place from July 26 through Aug. 11.
Commissioner Kimberly Causey-Gomez and administrators of Human Services defend budget at legislative hearing. (Source photo by Susan Ellis)

DHS Faces ‘Medicaid Cliff’

One of the most significant threats to the Department of Human Services and residents of the territory is the Medicaid “fiscal cliff” on Oct. 1, when the federal act expires that provided for 100 percent match for Medicaid funding. Through the Affordable Care Act and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Congress gave the territory access to additional funding because it determined the Virgin Islands is medically underserved and 22 percent of the residents live below the poverty line. With the additional funding, which expires Sept. 30, Medicaid serves more than 29,000 clients – more that a quarter of the population. “If Congress does not enact legislation to increase the amount of Medicaid funding and increase the FMAP (Federal Medical Assistance Percentage), the implications to the territory would be devastating,” Human Services Commissioner Kimberly Causey-Gomez, told the Senate Finance Committee during a hearing at the University of the Virgin Islands Friday. With the return to a match rate of 55 percent for federal and 45 percent for local funding, the Medicaid subsidy would be capped at $18.7 million, according to the commissioner. Under direct questioning, Causey-Gomez said 15,000 people would lose coverage. She told the lawmakers the department would work to retain seniors and children under Medicaid. In June, government officials traveled to Washington D.C. and Gov. Albert Bryan has testified on three or four occasions about the importance of the funding. During Friday’s hearing, Sen. Janelle Sarauw talked about the meetings in Washington to plead for state-like treatment under the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Kurt Vialet, Finance committee chair, expressed doubt since Congress is due to recess Aug. 1 and nothing has been done up to now. Senators seemed satisfied with the state of elderly services, the Herbert Grigg Home for the Elderly, hurricane shelters and relationships with non-profit organizations. A discussion on staff shortages at Head Start led to Vialet grilling staff about the government procurement process and forms being returned to Human Services for more information, especially from the Office of Management and Budget. Sen. Kenneth Gittens also expressed disapproval at the number of job vacancies given the number of people looking for employment. “Somehow I’m not seeing that sense of urgency and you need that sense of urgency. And we are seven months in so and I’ve told others, we cannot refer back to the past administration,” Vialet said. Overall, Health has 188 vacant positions which “directly impacts the delivery of services,” according to Causey-Gomez. Nurses, social workers and other critical positions comprise 132 of the vacancies. Also affecting staff is damage to the department’s buildings due to 2017 hurricanes, lack of office space, financial considerations and stress from fewer staff to do more work, she said. The Department of Human Services has 677 active employees in 12 divisions, serving 84 programs; 24 part timers serve the Senior Community Services Employment Program. Human Services serves low income individuals and families, persons with disabilities, people in need of supervision and the elderly. The department also supplies and mans hurricane shelters. The department’s 2020 budget of $172.3 million includes $100.9 million in Federal funding, $69.2 million from the General Fund and $2.1 million of non-appropriated funds. The General Fund budget comprises $21.2 million for personnel, $9.8 million in fringe benefits, $1.5 million for supplies, $35.2 million for other services and utilities estimated at $1.5 million. The largest expenditures from the General Fund will be: almost $27 million for required local matches for federal grants; $14.1 million for the Medical Assistance Program; $13.3 million for residential services; $10.3 million for the commissioner’s office; almost $10 million for Senior Citizens Affairs; and, $7.9 million for the Family Assistance Program. More than half of federal funding will be used for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called Food Stamps, and more than $50 million for MAP and $8.3 million for Head Start. Senator’s present during the hearing were: Sen. Novelle Frances, President of the Senate, Marvin Blyden, Kenneth Gittens, Donna Frett-Gregory, Oakland Benta, Dwayne DeGraff, Sarauw,Vialet, and Alicia Barnes.
Shaun A. Pennington

Reflections of an Evolving Elder: What We Care About

In the V.I., as has recently been revealed in the most heinous of ways, people are suffering and transmitting generational trauma. It has been going on for hundreds of years. What are we as a community demanding be done about it?

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