The shift to a Democratic-led Senate after the election of Rev. Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff in Georgia this week could lead to additional stimulus funds for Virgin Islanders, complementing the $600 already signed into law, according to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.
“The Democrats now have a rare opportunity to make things happen, and for the Virgin Islands that could be seen most immediately in additional stimulus funds,” Bryan said at a Thursday press briefing. With a new Democratic majority, the $2,000 stimulus proposal opposed by the Senate in late December could be resubmitted and passed.
“A second stimulus payment has been passed and in a couple of weeks that should be coming into the territory,” Bryan said. “If everything goes right, we are hoping we are able to get that to $2,000 per family, and we are hoping we can get that done rather quickly.”
Bryan said the government hopes to receive the funds needed to make the $600 payments from the U.S. Treasury within the next two weeks and to begin the payments shortly thereafter. He said the process should be easier than the first round, now that a distribution system has already been established.
Meanwhile, Bryan added that the recent Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act also extended unemployment insurance for those eligible under the CARES Act, allowing the current programs being administered by the V.I. Labor Department to be automatically extended.
That legislation also created a new benefits program – the Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation program – that provides an additional $100 per week to individuals receiving certain unemployment insurance benefits and at least $5,000 of self-employment income in the most recent taxable year prior to their application for regular unemployment compensation.
The benefit is in addition to the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $300, and documentation of the individual’s income will be required to qualify. Residents receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will not be eligible for MEUC benefits.
Bryan also took time to condemn Wednesday’s attack on the U.S. Capitol Building, calling it a “shameful act of terrorism” and “stunning display of the disparity with which our nation deploys the rule of law between people of color and white people.”
“But it was also an example of the danger of mixing misinformation with mass media, the partisan tactics of individuals who place their political aims above the common good,” he added. Bryan said the territory is “not immune” to similar forms of behavior, which put up barriers between locals and nonlocals, people of different races and even communities from different islands.
“Let us all resolve to be better stewards of information, to resist the urge to elevate rumors and conspiracy theories,” he said. “Let us resolve to be more civil in our political differences, our debate on the issues and check the political games at the door when it comes time to focus on the people’s work. I think then we can all accomplish more, not only for the territory but for the nation.”