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Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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More Income Tax Refunds On the Way

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has authorized the Bureau of Internal Revenue to pay out an additional $11 million in income tax refunds to tax filers in the territory this week.
Albert Bryan

Bryan Signs Budget and Bills, with Some Reservations

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. signed a slew of bills into law Tuesday, including the Fiscal Year 2020 V.I. Government budget bills.

St. John Schools, Offices Closed, Flash Flood Watch Wednesday

Tropical Storm Karen did relatively little damage Tuesday but there are isolated power outages, St. John ferries won't start until noon and more rain is on the way, administration officials said at a 6:30 a.m. press conference Wednesday.

Gov. Bryan: No Impact Expected From Hurricane Jerry

Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr. said Thursday updates from national and regional experts show “more good news,” with Hurricane Jerry expected to have minimal to no impact on the territory as it passes by late Friday and into Saturday.
Richard Motta (Source photo by Susan Ellis)

Pace of Recovery Picking Up as USVI Braces for New Storm

Richard Motta, director of Communications for the governor, opened a news conference Monday with information about an area of disturbance the National Hurricane Center is watching for possible development later this week.
Government House. (File photo)qGovernment House. (File photo)

Pre-Election Pay Increases Being Processed

The V.I. government is processing pay increases negotiated in collective bargaining agreements with several departments and agencies, Government House announced Friday.
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.
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.
Marijuana leaves (Yahoo photo)

Bryan Nominates 4 to Seats on Cannabis Advisory Board

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has nominated four people to take seats on the Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Board, which is charged with creating the regulations and policies governing the medical marijuana industry in the territory.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. comments on the benefits of integrating EMS and Fire during a recent meeting of the administration's VIFEMS integration team. (Government House photo)

Integration of Fire and Emergency Medical Services Moves Forward

The Department of Health, Fire Service and the Office of the Governor are moving forward with plans to integrate the Department of Health’s Emergency Medical Service with the Fire Service to form the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Service.

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