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HomeNewsArchivesEconomy May Sink or Swim Based on Stimulus Spending Choices, Officials Say

Economy May Sink or Swim Based on Stimulus Spending Choices, Officials Say

March 9, 2009 — How the V.I. government spends the $248 million expected in federal stimulus funds will determine whether the local economy will continue to slide or receive the boost needed to create more than 1,000 jobs and get some languishing projects off the ground, executive branch representatives said Monday.
Members of the governor's cabinet and financial team packed the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chambers Monday to give senators a breakdown of how much money is expected to come in from the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and how the dollars will be spent. Senators' concerns centered in large part on how involved the Legislature has been, and will continue to be, in the distribution and selection process, and whether the new law, which gives more discretion to the heads of states and territories, is unconstitutional.
"Obviously there are exigent circumstances and compelling state interest in revitalizing the economy, but as a legal mind, I have to think there might be some constitutional challenges to this broad scope and how the government is intervening in what are traditionally matters for state sovereignty," said Sen. Wayne James. "The purview of the Legislature … controlling the purse strings … has sort of been turned over to the executive branch, particularly when it comes to which projects should be worked on and how much should be spent."
Most of the funding is slated to come to the territory in the form of formula grants that would be put toward specific programs within various departments and agencies. In most cases, the spending guidelines are not negotiable. While the government is currently lobbying for more flexibility in how it spends approximately $67 million in fiscal stabilization funds, much of the $20 million the government expects in transportation and highway funds will be put toward projects already approved by the Legislature that have remained stagnant, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said during a recent press conference. (See "Governor Works to Steer Federal Economic-Stimulus Money.")
However, local government entities and community organizations also have the opportunity to apply for a number of competitive grants that would bring in more money for items ranging from Port Authority projects to initiatives spearheaded by local non-profits, financial team members said during Monday's Committee of the Whole hearing.
"Some of these grants will be subject to the intergovernmental review process and will be submitted to the Legislature for your review," Nathan Simmonds, the governor's senior policy advisor, assured senators Monday. "Due to the 'use it or lose it' provisions of many of these programs, we would attempt to shorten the review process as much as practical and would seek your cooperation in this regard."
Meanwhile, legislation is needed to help the government qualify for funding under some of the programs. The governor will soon submit a bill that would enable the Labor Department to receive some necessary Unemployment Insurance Modernization funding, Simmonds said. Another bill calling for the adoption of a tropical building energy code will also show that the territory is in compliance with stimulus act and State Energy Program mandates, he said.
Under ARRA, the Department of Human Services is expected to receive an extra $13.3 million for its food stamp program, and $103,482 for the administration of the program throughout the territory. The money will be used to provide a 13.6-percent increase for the more than 14,000 food stamp recipients in the Virgin Islands, Simmonds said. Human Services is also expected to get $269,887 to support additional employment opportunities for seniors age 55 and older.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should also come through with almost $1.9 million in Child Care and Development Block Grant funding to cover child-care costs for-low income families; $907,000 for local Head Start centers; $1.8 million in Community Services Block Grant funding to support employment, food, housing and health-care efforts for those hardest hit by the economic recession; and $250,000 in extra cash to provide meals to the elderly.
The V.I. Law Enforcement Planning Commission is expected to receive almost $5 million for local law-enforcement efforts under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Program, which can be put toward staff expenses, equipment, supplies, training and the construction or improvement of local correctional facilities, among other things. About $531,800 would go toward crime victims, while another $650,670 is earmarked for programs geared toward stopping violence against women. The funds will be sub-granted to local non-profits, along with the courts, Justice and local V.I. Police Department.
With its focus on clean-energy initiatives, the act should also put more than $33 million in the hands of the V.I. Energy Office, which is eligible to use the money for energy programs to weatherize V.I. homes, along with making local energy systems more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuel. Under the Weatherization Assistance Program, the territory will receive $2.6 million to help low-income families reduce their energy costs. Another $9.8 million in formula grant money will be available for initiatives such as the retrofitting of public buildings and the offering of water-heater rebates. The territory will also receive $20.6 million to promote energy conservation and efficiency through training and public-education programs.
The V.I. Waste Management Authority is expected to receive about $2 million in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds for the upgrading of public wastewater systems. Planning and Natural Resources is also slated to receive $100,000 for water quality management planning projects, along with about $2 million for drinking water infrastructure improvements.
The development of local workforce and employment training programs will be boosted by approximately $3.6 million expected from the U.S. Labor Department — including $327,487 for adult employment and training activities for low-income adults; $817,044 to create summer jobs for youth; about $950,000 for training and re-employment services for displaced workers; and $783,000 to modernize facilities and upgrade local unemployment insurance systems, among other things.
Unemployed workers should also see an extra $100 a month in benefits, Simmonds said.
Meanwhile, Education is expected to receive $9.4 million in Title I grant funds for elementary and secondary education, $352,124 for special-education programs, $17,613 for work study programs, $1.1 million in technology grants, about $30,000 for the school-lunch program and $37,000 for the Emergency Food Assistance Program. The stimulus bill also makes an additional $1.5 million in Pell Grant funds available for local college and low-income students.
The V.I. Housing Finance Authority will pull in an extra $1.8 million in Community Development Block Grant program funds. The government also estimates that about $776,000 in formula grant money will be available to cover short-term rental assistance, housing relocation and stabilization services for families that have become homeless during the current economic recession.
With an estimated $9.4 million expected from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the V.I. Housing Authority intends to rehabilitate 128 vacant housing units on St. Croix and 69 units on St. Thomas, in addition to demolishing four buildings in the Tutu Hi-Rise housing community that sustained hurricane damaged and have been vacant for the past six years.
Residents can track the progress of the territory's federal funds on the government's website at governordejongh.com/recovery.
Present during Monday's hearing were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Carlton &q
uot;Ital" Dowe, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Wayne James, Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Nerieda Rivera-O'Reilly, Usie R. Richards, Patrick Simeon Sprauve, Michael Thurland, Celestino A. White Sr. and Alvin L. Williams.
Sen. Sammuel Sanes was absent.
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March 9, 2009 -- How the V.I. government spends the $248 million expected in federal stimulus funds will determine whether the local economy will continue to slide or receive the boost needed to create more than 1,000 jobs and get some languishing projects off the ground, executive branch representatives said Monday.
Members of the governor's cabinet and financial team packed the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chambers Monday to give senators a breakdown of how much money is expected to come in from the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and how the dollars will be spent. Senators' concerns centered in large part on how involved the Legislature has been, and will continue to be, in the distribution and selection process, and whether the new law, which gives more discretion to the heads of states and territories, is unconstitutional.
"Obviously there are exigent circumstances and compelling state interest in revitalizing the economy, but as a legal mind, I have to think there might be some constitutional challenges to this broad scope and how the government is intervening in what are traditionally matters for state sovereignty," said Sen. Wayne James. "The purview of the Legislature ... controlling the purse strings ... has sort of been turned over to the executive branch, particularly when it comes to which projects should be worked on and how much should be spent."
Most of the funding is slated to come to the territory in the form of formula grants that would be put toward specific programs within various departments and agencies. In most cases, the spending guidelines are not negotiable. While the government is currently lobbying for more flexibility in how it spends approximately $67 million in fiscal stabilization funds, much of the $20 million the government expects in transportation and highway funds will be put toward projects already approved by the Legislature that have remained stagnant, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said during a recent press conference. (See "Governor Works to Steer Federal Economic-Stimulus Money.")
However, local government entities and community organizations also have the opportunity to apply for a number of competitive grants that would bring in more money for items ranging from Port Authority projects to initiatives spearheaded by local non-profits, financial team members said during Monday's Committee of the Whole hearing.
"Some of these grants will be subject to the intergovernmental review process and will be submitted to the Legislature for your review," Nathan Simmonds, the governor's senior policy advisor, assured senators Monday. "Due to the 'use it or lose it' provisions of many of these programs, we would attempt to shorten the review process as much as practical and would seek your cooperation in this regard."
Meanwhile, legislation is needed to help the government qualify for funding under some of the programs. The governor will soon submit a bill that would enable the Labor Department to receive some necessary Unemployment Insurance Modernization funding, Simmonds said. Another bill calling for the adoption of a tropical building energy code will also show that the territory is in compliance with stimulus act and State Energy Program mandates, he said.
Under ARRA, the Department of Human Services is expected to receive an extra $13.3 million for its food stamp program, and $103,482 for the administration of the program throughout the territory. The money will be used to provide a 13.6-percent increase for the more than 14,000 food stamp recipients in the Virgin Islands, Simmonds said. Human Services is also expected to get $269,887 to support additional employment opportunities for seniors age 55 and older.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should also come through with almost $1.9 million in Child Care and Development Block Grant funding to cover child-care costs for-low income families; $907,000 for local Head Start centers; $1.8 million in Community Services Block Grant funding to support employment, food, housing and health-care efforts for those hardest hit by the economic recession; and $250,000 in extra cash to provide meals to the elderly.
The V.I. Law Enforcement Planning Commission is expected to receive almost $5 million for local law-enforcement efforts under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Program, which can be put toward staff expenses, equipment, supplies, training and the construction or improvement of local correctional facilities, among other things. About $531,800 would go toward crime victims, while another $650,670 is earmarked for programs geared toward stopping violence against women. The funds will be sub-granted to local non-profits, along with the courts, Justice and local V.I. Police Department.
With its focus on clean-energy initiatives, the act should also put more than $33 million in the hands of the V.I. Energy Office, which is eligible to use the money for energy programs to weatherize V.I. homes, along with making local energy systems more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuel. Under the Weatherization Assistance Program, the territory will receive $2.6 million to help low-income families reduce their energy costs. Another $9.8 million in formula grant money will be available for initiatives such as the retrofitting of public buildings and the offering of water-heater rebates. The territory will also receive $20.6 million to promote energy conservation and efficiency through training and public-education programs.
The V.I. Waste Management Authority is expected to receive about $2 million in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds for the upgrading of public wastewater systems. Planning and Natural Resources is also slated to receive $100,000 for water quality management planning projects, along with about $2 million for drinking water infrastructure improvements.
The development of local workforce and employment training programs will be boosted by approximately $3.6 million expected from the U.S. Labor Department -- including $327,487 for adult employment and training activities for low-income adults; $817,044 to create summer jobs for youth; about $950,000 for training and re-employment services for displaced workers; and $783,000 to modernize facilities and upgrade local unemployment insurance systems, among other things.
Unemployed workers should also see an extra $100 a month in benefits, Simmonds said.
Meanwhile, Education is expected to receive $9.4 million in Title I grant funds for elementary and secondary education, $352,124 for special-education programs, $17,613 for work study programs, $1.1 million in technology grants, about $30,000 for the school-lunch program and $37,000 for the Emergency Food Assistance Program. The stimulus bill also makes an additional $1.5 million in Pell Grant funds available for local college and low-income students.
The V.I. Housing Finance Authority will pull in an extra $1.8 million in Community Development Block Grant program funds. The government also estimates that about $776,000 in formula grant money will be available to cover short-term rental assistance, housing relocation and stabilization services for families that have become homeless during the current economic recession.
With an estimated $9.4 million expected from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the V.I. Housing Authority intends to rehabilitate 128 vacant housing units on St. Croix and 69 units on St. Thomas, in addition to demolishing four buildings in the Tutu Hi-Rise housing community that sustained hurricane damaged and have been vacant for the past six years.
Residents can track the progress of the territory's federal funds on the government's website at governordejongh.com/recovery.
Present during Monday's hearing were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Carlton &q uot;Ital" Dowe, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Wayne James, Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Nerieda Rivera-O'Reilly, Usie R. Richards, Patrick Simeon Sprauve, Michael Thurland, Celestino A. White Sr. and Alvin L. Williams.
Sen. Sammuel Sanes was absent.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.