The U.S. Virgin Islands has expended over half of its $546 million in CARES Act funding issued subsequent to the COVID-19 outbreak, Office of Management and Budget Director Jenifer O’Neal told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
O’Neal said the territory received the CARES Act funding through various federal grants and agencies and in total has expended over $300 million, with nearly $245 million remaining.
“Not only has this funding allowed for the preservation of jobs throughout the territory, but it has also provided many government agencies with the tools that were vital to remaining fully functional during a time when we have been forced to work under irregular conditions – now considered to be the new normal,” O’Neal said.
The Office of Management and Budget currently manages four COVID-19-related funds, from which dozens of payments have been made to various local government entities, including $1 million for ferry subsidies, $6 million for payroll reimbursement and COVID-related costs issued to Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital and nearly $16 million for a Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority Energy Stimulus Program.
The Department of Health has directly received a total of $13.9 million in COVID-19 funding, O’Neal said, and in addition was granted over $3 million through the Department of the Interior, plus more than $21 million from the Treasury COVID Relief Fund. While the department’s $3 million in funding from Interior has not been touched, more than $15 million of the funds from the Treasury COVID Relief Fund have been expended.
The territory’s two hospitals have used their CARES relief funds, but other government agencies that received relief funds have expended only a portion of the money, while others haven’t spent a dime.
O’Neal said the Department of Human Services has received nearly $30 million in relief funding but has spent a little over $2 million. Similarly, O’Neal said the Department of Education received over $21 million in funding but has spent under $13 million. Both the Department of Public Works and the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority have expended nothing of their $4 million and $5 million in relief funding, respectively.
Not all committee members were impressed with the pace at which the funds are being used.
“There’s a lot of people hurting and until we get to the mentality that we have to do everything in our power to make sure everyone is OK we are going to be in this situation,” Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger said. “How do we be in a situation that we have over half a billion dollars and we are sitting here trying to figure out how to spend it?”
O’Neal said she didn’t want to speak for other agencies regarding why the funds were not fully expended.
“Despite the federal government’s overwhelming response to the COVID-19 impact on the territory, I must emphasize that there is still a long road ahead to achieve full economic recovery,” O’Neal said. “While the social and economic disruption caused by the pandemic devastated this territory, today, almost a full year later, we stand firm in knowing that we are resilient, we are adaptive and we will continue to work diligently to prevent any further escalation of the economic impacts of this pandemic.”
Sens. Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Dwayne DeGraff, Donna Frett-Gregory, Javan James Sr., Janelle Sarauw and Kurt Vialet were present for the hearing. Non-committee members also attended.