Legislation sponsored by Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett that calls on Congress to forgo $ 300 million in community disaster loans (CDLs) provided to the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of the 2017 storms, was approved as part of the continuing resolution of Congress (CR) to fund the government until December 3. This victory represents a significant milestone not only for Ms. Plaskett’s efforts in Congress, but also for the USVI, as it increases the territory’s chances in the bond market. The government is considering another fundraising attempt as local leaders seek ways to avoid the collapse of the government employee pension system.
In an interview with the Consortium on Tuesday, Plaskett expressed confidence that the measure would be approved. “It looks very good. If the disaster forgiveness stays there, what the President [Nancy Pelosi] will probably keep so that members are willing to adopt it, then we will have our disaster loans canceled “, she said tuesday.
In a statement Thursday, the congresswoman said: “This will save the Virgin Islands over $ 300 million in much-needed revenue. It will also remove restrictions on the territory’s ability to raise funding to mitigate losses. of massive income caused by the pandemic and previous ones, severe The territory’s persistent financial difficulties have been exacerbated by CDLs, not only because of their repayment obligations, but also because of their impact on the territory’s ability to access other forms of financing needed. CDL promissory note terms give FEMA and the US Treasury the ability to pre-empt any new Virgin Islands borrowing and strike a significant source of revenue. “
Ms Plaskett said the current resolution also extends the current improved federal matching funds rate (89.2%) for Medicaid in the Virgin Islands until December 3, 2021 (the lifetime of ongoing federal funding). , which, according to her, avoids a sharp drop. in the Federal Medicaid Funding Rate in the Virgin Islands.
“My office, working with local government and other members of Congress representing the territories, was able to change the federal matching funds rate in 2017 on a temporary basis, which we were able to continue. This change in federal Medicaid funding, in addition to increasing the amount paid by Medicaid, has enabled the Virgin Islands government to enroll over 20,000 additional Virgin Islanders in Medicaid, providing essential health care to our community ” said Ms Plaskett.
She added, “I am proud of the work the House Democratic Caucus has done to take responsibility for our country and advance the interests of all Americans. I am grateful to the leadership of the House for including the forgiveness of ongoing Virgin Islands community disaster loans in this RC. Working families rely on the federal government to help them provide the essential services they need. That is why I am proud to support this bill to continue investments in housing, public education and child care.
Another important element of Plaskett is a measure included in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that was approved in the House. The measure, which is part of Ms Plaskett’s initial campaign pledge, provides for a nonimmigrant visitor visa waiver for entry into the U.S. Virgin Islands for up to 45 days (primarily for residents of neighboring Caribbean countries ).
“This limited visa waiver program would allow the Virgin Islands to better compete economically with other islands and nations in the Caribbean community,” Plaskett said in a recent statement. “A national visa waiver program in the United States already allows nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. This amendment would apply only to the United States Virgin Islands and, because the Virgin Islands are outside the United States customs zone, it would not allow entry into any other part of the United States. “
Regarding the potential passage of the measure, the congresswoman said: “Very often members like me, if you can find some relevance, you try to put your bill in a bill to pass. , and the National Defense Authorization Act is an essential piece of legislation. We have discussed with several senators the possibility of sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate version or ensuring that, when the two bills are reconciled, our legislation is not deleted. “
In the House, Ms. Plaskett got 18 Republicans to support her amendment, and she expects the same or stronger support in the Senate, which is seen as a more moderate body. “We said to ourselves that the Senate is much more moderate so the probability of finding an agreement is even more there,” she said.
“This is something I talked about when I first showed up, so being able to get it would be great for me,” she added, referring to the article on the exemption from Visa.
Ms. Plaskett’s ability to put her accomplishments in Congress in layman’s terms has the effect of obscuring the gigantic efforts to garner support in a polarized Washington. This job has become even more difficult as Congress has grown more partisan over the years – amplified following the election of former President Donald Trump.
Some of her influence arose from Ms. Plaskett’s placement on the Ways and Means Committee, but her high marks and ubiquity as impeachment official in Trump’s second impeachment trial have meant that the movers and shakers of Washington is now taking his calls.
Ms. Plaskett also included some measures in the $ 3.5 trillion spending bill that is being brought forward through the reconciliation. However, since the final version of the reconciliation bill remains uncertain, the fate of the Plaskett measures included in it has not been determined.
Some of the items include wording that the territory would be reintegrated into the federal highways formula, which would increase annual funding from the current $ 16 million to $ 40 million for the territory’s highways. There is also a measure called College Access Law, which would put Virgin Islands high school graduates seeking higher education on the mainland on an equal footing with their counterparts.
“If you reside in the Virgin Islands and have graduated from high school, when you apply to a state university, you will be treated as a state resident for tuition fees,” Ms. Plaskett. “If a student from the Virgin Islands graduates from Central High School and applies to UCLA or AVU, or the State of Florida, they will pay the tuition fees in the state in those areas. is something I have been trying to do for quite some time and we have it for all territories [except] Porto Rico.”
The argument as to why Puerto Rico was not included is that “Puerto Rico has several universities, but for places like the Virgin Islands our students cannot get all the [college] major on the island, ”she said.