Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. penned a letter to Congressional leaders on Monday requesting additional federal aid to the Virgin Islands, as the COVID-19 virus — and its impact on tourism — continues to push the territory into a “serious economic crisis.”
In the letter, Bryan thanked Congress for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act, which provided the territory with roughly $75 million, but noted that the amount was “inadequate” and failed to boost an economy bludgeoned by a dormant tourism sector.
Bryan said the initial COVID shutdown caused the territory to suffer a “near-total loss” of tourism revenues in the critical spring season.
“With the winter tourist season rapidly approaching and COVID infections spiking across the nation and the world, the territory faces an unprecedented dilemma with further potential shutdowns due to an increased infection rate in the territory, as well as a continuing economic blow from the ongoing moratorium on cruises leaving U.S. ports, which has resulted in no cruise passengers since the first quarter of 2020,” Bryan wrote.
As such, Bryan presented three requests for immediate relief: A fresh infusion of direct coronavirus relief fund aid, a waiver of the local cost-share requirement for both appropriated and forthcoming federal disaster relief payments, and a cancellation of the territory’s $300 million in Community Disaster Loans.
In regard to the coronavirus relief aid, Bryan recommended that monies be allocated more equitably to the territories and be available to cover lost, delayed or decreased revenue resulting from the pandemic.
“The [prior] allocation provided the V.I. government with approximately $75 million — approximately one-sixteenth of the grants provided to even the smallest states,” Bryan wrote.
In requesting the local cost-share for FEMA public assistance be waived, Bryan noted that the $5 billion in FEMA funding available to the territory from the hurricanes requires a 10% local match, while the COVID-19 relief requires a 25% match. Together, they require the territory to provide $500 million in local matching funds.
“There are no local funds to pay the necessary local match for federal grants,” Bryan wrote. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the territory has had to dramatically reduce its budget by as much as $60 million for fiscal 2021. This reduction results in limited capacity to even hire and train much-needed personnel and leaves no money to pay even a fraction of the required local match.”
As far as having the $300 million in Community Disaster Loans forgiven, Bryan said the territory was likely to qualify for loan cancellation “under the terms of the CDL promissory notes, as well as under applicable regulations.” “The fiscal crisis resulting from the pandemic makes the need for cancellation even more urgent,” Bryan added. “The government cannot afford to take revenue desperately needed for the current crisis and use it to fund debt service from the previous one.”
Bryan’s letter was addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy; and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer.
— Contact A.J. Rao at 340-714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.