USVI officials are touting the passage of President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which they said will give the territory – and the nation – a “much-needed economic shot in the arm” after the financial impact dealt by the ongoing global pandemic.
“President Biden and both Houses of Congress are to be commended for their determination to assist the American people, and on behalf of the U.S. Virgin Islands, we are grateful that our leaders were able to stay on track through weeks of negotiations to bring this bill to a successful conclusion,” Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr. said in a recent statement.
The bill, which already passed the U.S. Senate and then the House on Friday, now goes to the president for his signature. It is intended to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and internet connections. Along with other allocations, the territory will receive a share of the following appropriations:
– $110 billion for roads, bridges and other major projects,
– $65 billion for broadband,
– $55 billion for water systems, and
– $39 billion for public transit.
The work isn’t over for the president’s team, which is now fanning out across the nation to lobby support for the second piece, a “Build Back Better” plan, which puts $1.75 trillion into health, family and climate change programs that House Democrats have said they hope will pass by Thanksgiving.
In a recent statement, Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett said the Build Back Better framework will have a substantial impact on the territory, including:
– New economic activity credit related to wages paid to employees and tangible investments of active businesses in U.S. territories. The credit would be enhanced in cases of smaller-sized employers in the territories. This credit can be used to offset new tax increases imposed on businesses in the Virgin Islands under the previous federal administration. The small business provision will be especially important to stimulate economic development in the territories.
– An increase in federal highway funding to the Virgin Islands by $128 million through fiscal year 2026. This additional funding is critical to helping the Virgin Islands catch up, bring arterial roads up to federal standards, and reverse deteriorating conditions of transportation infrastructure due to unprecedented extreme weather events.
– $160 million dollars in Department of the Interior assistance to improve critical infrastructure in the Virgin Islands. This assistance is important because critical infrastructure in the territories has been historically underfunded in federal programs, and such infrastructure is otherwise vulnerable due to factors such as remote location and challenges related to climate change.
– Include Plaskett’s plan to have a college access grants program for students in the territories to cover the difference between the tuition for in-state students and out-of-state students at participating institutions of higher education. This program will enable college-bound residents of the territories to have greater choices among institutions of higher education and mitigate the strain of student debt.
“In addition, the Build Back Better plan would finally extend the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program to residents of the Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories, and provide permanent Medicaid funding certainty to the territories,” Plaskett said. “Since coming to Congress, I have been advocating for the American citizens living in the Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories to be afforded equal benefits. As early as 1973, my predecessors have been advocating and introducing legislation for the SSI benefit. In the Virgin Islands, and indeed the other territories as well, this supplemental income is needed to support our residents with the greatest needs. Ensuring equal access to federal SSI assistance will help our most needy Virgin Islanders put food on their tables and ease the financial pressures those families are facing.”
The plan contains sufficient federal Medicaid funding to the Virgin Islands, provided indefinitely, creating equity in federal matching funds which will help to improve the health security of our people for many years to come, the Delegate added.