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Tuesday, May 17, 2022
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Report Says USVI’s Recovery Is Uneven

Hurricane damage from the 2017 storms remains at Arthur A. Richards. (Source file photo)
Hurricane damage from the 2017 storms at Arthur A. Richards School on St. Croix. (Source file photo)

A recently released 385-page federal report provides details about what has and hasn’t been accomplished in the USVI’s recovery since the hurricanes of 2017. The report says the government has made a robust effort in areas such as infrastructure, but the territory has not recovered as fast as residents would like or as fast as other areas in the United States after similar disasters.

The research for the report was concluded before the COVID-19 pandemic, but each chapter has a section explaining what the pandemic might mean for ongoing recovery efforts.

The report was produced by Rand Corporation, a nonprofit institution with offices in Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Europe and Australia. It was funded by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security.

“The findings should be of interest to the USVI territory government, nonprofits and private sector leaders managing the recovery; the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies contributing to the USVI’s recovery; engaged citizens of the territory; philanthropies contributing to USVI recovery; and anyone interested in the progress of recovery in the territory. It will also be of interest to people in dealing with disaster recovery elsewhere in the United States and to scholars because it highlights challenges and opportunities for recovery in a key case,” the report reads.

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Chapter one topics include background on the USVI, hurricane damage, recovery activities to date and recovery directions.

Chapter two topics include government management capacity, agency management capacity, recovery burden, progress, key barriers and gaps and recommendations.

Chapter three covers the area titled progress, challenges and options for the future.

Chapter four centers on the workforce, and chapter five on the supply chain. Chapter six focuses on infrastructure services, and chapter seven on energy.

Most of the chapters include sections on barriers and recommendations. The later chapters contain more specifics relating to residents’ lives and the economy. Chapter eight is on housing and chapter nine is on natural and cultural resources. Chapter ten’s subject is tourism; chapter 11’s education; and Chapter 12’s health and human services.

In chapter 13, the conclusion area of the report, two concerns raised are management capacity and government fiscal capacity. The report says, “ODR [Office of Disaster Recovery] has lacked the resources needed to lead the recovery in a sustainable way. USVI government agencies require personnel capable of managing and overseeing the large number and wide variety of recovery projects. Yet, many territory agencies have not been able to hire personnel dedicated to managing recovery projects because of a lack of funding for these positions and lengthy administrative procedures.”

The report notes that the local government estimates that to fully recover from the damage caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria, the USVI government will need $11.25 billion, a heavy load for a territory with a less than $4 billion annual economy.

The report also notes problems with the process of getting federal financial help to the territory. It says that although the federal government has made a variety of funding sources available to support recovery, “FEMA grants require the USVI government to pay for recovery and wait for reimbursement, as well as to provide matching funds. However, the process of navigating and accessing these programs is complex, and the USVI government has lacked the liquidity needed to start reconstruction. Territory agencies often use their operating budgets to start construction while waiting for reimbursement.”

“As of this writing, more than 2.5 years after the hurricanes, the territory still has substantial recovery needs, with few permanent reconstruction projects having begun and USVI public revenues reduced by roughly half,” the report concludes.

The report also contains a positive note. “At the same time, the recovery process also presents an opportunity for the USVI to reenvision the territory’s future. Once the immediate response is over, disasters can open space for investment, deliberation and debate, allowing for alternative visions and transformative change. The USVI similarly has an opportunity to leverage recovery funding to create a more modern, resilient and equitable territory for its residents.”

The report can be downloaded here.

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Hurricane damage from the 2017 storms remains at Arthur A. Richards. (Source file photo)
Hurricane damage from the 2017 storms at Arthur A. Richards School on St. Croix. (Source file photo)
A recently released 385-page federal report provides details about what has and hasn't been accomplished in the USVI's recovery since the hurricanes of 2017. The report says the government has made a robust effort in areas such as infrastructure, but the territory has not recovered as fast as residents would like or as fast as other areas in the United States after similar disasters. The research for the report was concluded before the COVID-19 pandemic, but each chapter has a section explaining what the pandemic might mean for ongoing recovery efforts. The report was produced by Rand Corporation, a nonprofit institution with offices in Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Europe and Australia. It was funded by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. “The findings should be of interest to the USVI territory government, nonprofits and private sector leaders managing the recovery; the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies contributing to the USVI’s recovery; engaged citizens of the territory; philanthropies contributing to USVI recovery; and anyone interested in the progress of recovery in the territory. It will also be of interest to people in dealing with disaster recovery elsewhere in the United States and to scholars because it highlights challenges and opportunities for recovery in a key case,” the report reads. Chapter one topics include background on the USVI, hurricane damage, recovery activities to date and recovery directions. Chapter two topics include government management capacity, agency management capacity, recovery burden, progress, key barriers and gaps and recommendations. Chapter three covers the area titled progress, challenges and options for the future. Chapter four centers on the workforce, and chapter five on the supply chain. Chapter six focuses on infrastructure services, and chapter seven on energy. Most of the chapters include sections on barriers and recommendations. The later chapters contain more specifics relating to residents' lives and the economy. Chapter eight is on housing and chapter nine is on natural and cultural resources. Chapter ten’s subject is tourism; chapter 11’s education; and Chapter 12’s health and human services. In chapter 13, the conclusion area of the report, two concerns raised are management capacity and government fiscal capacity. The report says, “ODR [Office of Disaster Recovery] has lacked the resources needed to lead the recovery in a sustainable way. USVI government agencies require personnel capable of managing and overseeing the large number and wide variety of recovery projects. Yet, many territory agencies have not been able to hire personnel dedicated to managing recovery projects because of a lack of funding for these positions and lengthy administrative procedures.” The report notes that the local government estimates that to fully recover from the damage caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria, the USVI government will need $11.25 billion, a heavy load for a territory with a less than $4 billion annual economy. The report also notes problems with the process of getting federal financial help to the territory. It says that although the federal government has made a variety of funding sources available to support recovery, “FEMA grants require the USVI government to pay for recovery and wait for reimbursement, as well as to provide matching funds. However, the process of navigating and accessing these programs is complex, and the USVI government has lacked the liquidity needed to start reconstruction. Territory agencies often use their operating budgets to start construction while waiting for reimbursement.” “As of this writing, more than 2.5 years after the hurricanes, the territory still has substantial recovery needs, with few permanent reconstruction projects having begun and USVI public revenues reduced by roughly half,” the report concludes. The report also contains a positive note. “At the same time, the recovery process also presents an opportunity for the USVI to reenvision the territory’s future. Once the immediate response is over, disasters can open space for investment, deliberation and debate, allowing for alternative visions and transformative change. The USVI similarly has an opportunity to leverage recovery funding to create a more modern, resilient and equitable territory for its residents.” The report can be downloaded here.