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V.I.’s ELDERLY, DISABLED HIT HARD BY ECONOMY

The territory’s elderly and disabled residents, particularly students, are being hit hardest by the poor Virgin Islands economy.
That was the message members of the Senate Committee on Youth and Human Services were given by a host of testifiers Monday on St. Croix. Because of staffing issues, children with special needs are not receiving adequate educations in the public school system, said Michelle LaCoss, the mother of a child with Down syndrome and member of V.I. Find, an advocacy group for parents of children with special needs.
The local special education system is already being monitored by the U.S. Department of Education because it has failed to develop individual education plans for special education students and its dearth of specialists in the areas of speech, language and occupational therapy.
Unlike most schools on the mainland, many of the more than 1,000 special needs students in the Virgin Islands are placed in classrooms without proper support. That affects both the student and the teacher, LaCoss said.
"Children with special needs are just dropped into the regular classroom," she said, adding that her remedy would be to cut Education Department administrative positions to hire more specialists.
Meanwhile, Sinclair Williams, deputy executive director of the V.I. Housing Authority, said the elderly in the territory and his agency are feeling the effects of the government’s financial problems. The V.I. government is supposed to fund operations at the Lucinda Williams and Whim Gardens senior centers, but that hasn’t occurred in the last 12 years, Williams said.
The result is that the Housing Authority must pick up the tab to the tune of $4 million, which skews its bottom line and in turn affects its rating with federal regulations that call for housing agencies to keep a set amount of money in reserve.
Meanwhile, Arnold Golden of the V.I. chapter of the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons said neither of the Virgin Islands’ two hospitals have received their share of tobacco settlement proceeds. The $50 million the territory is set to receive over 25 years is slated to go to the Department of Health for prevention, basic and long-term health care needs as well as health-related capital improvement projects; the Roy L. Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas for a cancer center and other projects; and to the Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix for a cardiac treatment center and other capital improvement projects.
That news didn’t sit well with Sen. Lorraine Berry, who said the 23rd Legislature passed a bill last year to direct the money to health care.
"It’s very specific as to what can be done with the funding," she said. "We will follow through to make sure that happens."
Golden also said the AARP’s 15,000-plus membership in the territory urged the Senate to support Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen’s proposal in Congress aimed at lifting the Medicaid cap in the territory.
For the most part, Medicaid is the only way elderly, low-income and disabled people receive medical care in the U.S. and its territories. However, jurisdictions like the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico receive limited funding because they don’t directly contribute to the program in federal taxes.
In the Virgin Islands, about 15,000 people are eligible for Medicaid, according to V.I. Health Department statistics. Christensen and others who support lifting the cap, which currently stands at $670 per eligible person compared to $3,300 per person on the mainland, argue that it would mean better health care for residents of the territories and would free up local dollars for other pressing purposes. Christensen’s bill aims to increase the amount the federal government covers for Medicaid from the current 50 percent to 77 percent.
Under the current system, "too many children and elderly are shortchanged," Golden said.
Berry said the territory needs between $40 million and $50 million a year. It now receives $10 million annually.

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The territory’s elderly and disabled residents, particularly students, are being hit hardest by the poor Virgin Islands economy.
That was the message members of the Senate Committee on Youth and Human Services were given by a host of testifiers Monday on St. Croix. Because of staffing issues, children with special needs are not receiving adequate educations in the public school system, said Michelle LaCoss, the mother of a child with Down syndrome and member of V.I. Find, an advocacy group for parents of children with special needs.
The local special education system is already being monitored by the U.S. Department of Education because it has failed to develop individual education plans for special education students and its dearth of specialists in the areas of speech, language and occupational therapy.
Unlike most schools on the mainland, many of the more than 1,000 special needs students in the Virgin Islands are placed in classrooms without proper support. That affects both the student and the teacher, LaCoss said.
"Children with special needs are just dropped into the regular classroom," she said, adding that her remedy would be to cut Education Department administrative positions to hire more specialists.
Meanwhile, Sinclair Williams, deputy executive director of the V.I. Housing Authority, said the elderly in the territory and his agency are feeling the effects of the government’s financial problems. The V.I. government is supposed to fund operations at the Lucinda Williams and Whim Gardens senior centers, but that hasn’t occurred in the last 12 years, Williams said.
The result is that the Housing Authority must pick up the tab to the tune of $4 million, which skews its bottom line and in turn affects its rating with federal regulations that call for housing agencies to keep a set amount of money in reserve.
Meanwhile, Arnold Golden of the V.I. chapter of the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons said neither of the Virgin Islands’ two hospitals have received their share of tobacco settlement proceeds. The $50 million the territory is set to receive over 25 years is slated to go to the Department of Health for prevention, basic and long-term health care needs as well as health-related capital improvement projects; the Roy L. Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas for a cancer center and other projects; and to the Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix for a cardiac treatment center and other capital improvement projects.
That news didn’t sit well with Sen. Lorraine Berry, who said the 23rd Legislature passed a bill last year to direct the money to health care.
"It’s very specific as to what can be done with the funding," she said. "We will follow through to make sure that happens."
Golden also said the AARP’s 15,000-plus membership in the territory urged the Senate to support Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen’s proposal in Congress aimed at lifting the Medicaid cap in the territory.
For the most part, Medicaid is the only way elderly, low-income and disabled people receive medical care in the U.S. and its territories. However, jurisdictions like the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico receive limited funding because they don’t directly contribute to the program in federal taxes.
In the Virgin Islands, about 15,000 people are eligible for Medicaid, according to V.I. Health Department statistics. Christensen and others who support lifting the cap, which currently stands at $670 per eligible person compared to $3,300 per person on the mainland, argue that it would mean better health care for residents of the territories and would free up local dollars for other pressing purposes. Christensen’s bill aims to increase the amount the federal government covers for Medicaid from the current 50 percent to 77 percent.
Under the current system, "too many children and elderly are shortchanged," Golden said.
Berry said the territory needs between $40 million and $50 million a year. It now receives $10 million annually.