At a press conference held at Government House and broadcast territory-wide, deJongh said that next Thursday $36 million in retroactive wages will be deposited or mailed to 10,718 government workers. He called the funds – which will represent the first 16 percent of total monies owed to each employee – a down payment on money that had been promised in vain for too long.
“The issue of retro[active pay] has hung over our government for more years than anyone wishes to count, and it has been wrapped up in a tremendous amount of political rhetoric,” he said.
Also on hand Tuesday was Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon, who explained that retirees will receive a check in the mail while current government employees will be paid however they are usually paid – either through direct deposit or a check.
Hermon also directed workers to www.dopusvi.org, where, starting Monday, they can get a detailed summary of their retroactive wages. He said anyone without internet access can visit the Division of Personnel.
The names of deceased employees who are owed money, he said, can also be found on that website and survivors will be subject to V.I. probate laws. Hermon added that retroactive wage payments are subject to any tax liens and child support obligations, and that anyone wishing to challenge the Retroactive Wage Commission’s findings is welcome to do so as long as they have supporting documents.
Hermon explained a bit about the three-year process of searching through old records and compiling information to determine which employees were owed what.
He said that the commission had to review 43 different contracts with 87 associated pay plans. They also reviewed over 21,000 personnel files and attendance records for more than 10,000 employees.
He said that while compiling so much information was a painstaking process, he wanted the commission to get it right so they wouldn’t have to go back later to fix mistakes.
“I wanted them to move fast, but I wanted them to be as careful as they are fast,” he said.
Also on hand for today’s announcement were the lawmakers responsible for the legislation that made today’s announcement possible: Sens. Carlton “Ital” Dowe, Louis Patrick Hill and Usie Richards. Celestino White, who also played a major role, was unable to attend the ceremony.
“This day didn’t just happen,” said Dowe. He credited a close working relationship with the governor for his success.
The total amount of retroactive debt owed to employees is upwards of $250 million, and the governor said that they did not yet know how or when they would find the money to pay back the remainder of the money owed.
DeJongh signed the retroactive wage bill into law in December 2007. The legislation, sponsored by Dowe and Richards, allows the government to draw $45 million from the Insurance Guaranty Fund to repay workers money owed. The funds are to be secured by a letter of credit from a local bank.
This past legislative session, lawmakers approved an amendment that opened up the field of banks they can obtain a letter of credit from to include those not federally insured. The governor said today that the government is now deciding between either FirstBank or Banco Popular.
Both Dowe and deJongh emphasized Tuesday that the money used to pay back the debts would not add to any of the government’s debt obligations. Dowe said the Insurance Guaranty Fund replenishes itself every year and is financed mostly through insurance policy payments. He added that the fund generates about $10–12 million a year and has been capped at $50 million.