An Open Letter from Delegate Stacey Plaskett
Washington, July 22, 2019
Dear Participants of the 3rd Virgin Islands Advocacy Day:
I would like to publicly express my sincere gratitude and appreciation for the time, energy and subject matter expertise the participants of the 3rd Advocacy Day in Washington DC voice our community’s issues on July 17, 2019. As you are aware, unlike most states which have large delegations of Members in Congress, I am the only Member to speak directly each day on the issues of the Virgin Islands in the U.S House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. As a result, Advocacy Day was created to amplify the voice of the Virgin Islands on Capitol Hill through legislative, business and community stakeholders like yourselves on timely issues developing in Washington that affect the Virgin Islands. The Members of Congress and policymakers you met with are developing legislation for the Fall which I believe will be acted on in the Fall that will directly impact areas critical to the U.S. Virgin Islands’ short and long-term progress.
The meetings you had with Members of Congress and their senior staff focused on three timely areas; economic development, our ongoing recovery from the disastrous hurricanes in 2017, and the territory’s healthcare crisis. More specifically your discussion with Senators, Representatives and Senior Policy Staff identified several measures in those areas including, but not limited to: improving and expediting the payment and approval process for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) projects, addressing the rapidly approaching fiscal Medicaid cliff, tax issues related to the reimbursement of the Earned Income and Child Tax Credit (EITC/CTC) and tax provisions affecting the Virgin Islands. Your travel to Washington in mid-July ensured that policymakers heard directly from stakeholders before Congress adjourns the end of July for the entire month of August. For example, when Congress returns to Washington the week of September 9th, there will only be fifteen legislative days to address the Medicaid cliff which expires on September 30th. Separately, Congress is working on corrective legislation related to several tax provisions.
Despite positive steps much more work remains, particularly with FEMA’s implementation of changes to the law that Congress has made. FEMA’s treatment of the territories is of great concern. As the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has pointed out to Congress, the appropriate process for implementing resiliency provisions is still unclear, two years after the hurricanes. Numerous critical infrastructure projects are on hold pending FEMA guidance. Having individuals attend Advocacy Day who interface directly with FEMA and HUD as well as several business owners and non-profits who are directly impacted by the bureaucracy was extremely helpful in educating and driving Members to exert pressure on those federal agencies where Virgin Islands funding is being held hostage.
Furthermore, we are looking to amend the TCJA to allow more areas of the Virgin Islands to be designated as Opportunity Zones, thus, creating new incentives for developers to build in our islands – ports to support shipping and cruise lines, hotels, etc. Having shipping companies, trucking companies, and hoteliers at the Virgin Islanders Advocacy Day was a great representation of how amending the law would help the Virgin Islands.
I am supremely confident that through our collective advocacy, and working with Governor Albert Bryan, we are making great strides in addressing these issues. I look forward to continuing our partnership, and utilizing the extraordinary skills you all possess to improve the lives of everyday Virgin Islanders. All Virgin Islanders should be proud of how we all worked together and represented masterfully our community on the Hill. Thank you for making the 3rd Virgin Islands Advocacy Day a success.
Stacey E. Plaskett (D-VI)