Testimony given by Labor Commissioner Sonia Jacobs-Dow and Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull on Monday revealed that worker's compensation payments will grind to a halt again this week as the result of the insurance fund being in the red by $2.9 million.
At a meeting of the Committee on Labor and Veteran's Affairs, a number of additional problems were uncovered.
Among them was Turnbull's revelation that on Friday she had authorized payment of $400,000 for claims against the worker's compensation program by "tapping other special funds of the government." Several senators became upset at that news, noting that the administration did not have authorization to tap other funds.
Turnbull responded that no further payments will be authorized until the Senate acts on an appropriation bill from Government House.
However, at a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Charles Turnbull supported Turnbull's action, saying, "What she did was a humanitarian deed; it was not illegal."
The governor said he would further discuss the status of the worker's compensation program when he meets with legislators Thursday. In fact, the governor placed the blame for the problems with worker's compensation on the Legislature's doorstep.
"In December, this same Legislature failed to enact a $3 million appropriation that would have covered the shortfall in the fund, the governor said. "The Senate dropped the ball and now there is a crisis."
The insurance fund is owed $6.8 million by the V.I. government and $943,012 by private companies, according to the Finance commissioner.
Additionally, Dow faced several rounds of tough questioning Monday as senators questioned her about Labor's failure to implement federally mandated "one-stop shopping" for services provided by the agency. Dow was also questioned about her failure to implement increases in unemployment benefits and decreases in employers' contributions to the fund.
Committee Chair Roosevelt David openly criticized Dow for failing to enact the provisions of that legislation, which was passed last year.