Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett is heralding the passage of the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill to fund the federal government that, among other measures, secures permanent Medicaid funding for the U.S. Virgin Islands and other territories.
“After weeks of late nights and early mornings, the Democrat-led House successfully passed H.R.2617, the omnibus bill — with permanent Medicaid funding and community project funding that will benefit the Virgin Islands and other territories,” Plaskett, a member of the House Ways and Means, Budget and Agriculture committees, said in a prepared statement on Thursday night after the Senate passed the legislation in a 69-27 bipartisan vote.
The 4,000-page bill then went back to the House on Friday for a final vote — passing 225-201 just after 3 p.m. — and was sent to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature, which is expected in the coming days.
“I am pleased that through the hard work of my office, we were able to finally reach an agreement that would permanently extend the rate of federal funding for Medicaid in the Virgin Islands,” said Plaskett, who praised her predecessor, Donna Christian-Christensen, for her efforts toward health care reforms for the territory when she was delegate.
“In the Virgin Islands, up until the storms of 2017, nearly 30 percent of our residents had no health insurance, which is a rate that is disproportionately higher than the national average of approximately 9 percent,” said Plaskett.
As of 2021, 34,000 individuals in the Virgin Islands, over a third of the population, relied on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, she said. The Virgin Islands historically has been denied the Medicaid funding available in the 50 states, with the federal government covering just 55 percent of Medicaid costs to the USVI. That amount was temporarily expanded after the hurricanes of 2017 to 83 percent.
With passage of the omnibus bill, the rate of federal funding for Medicaid in the Virgin Islands and other smaller territories will be permanently set at 83 percent — the highest level of federal financial participation that any U.S. state may receive, said Plaskett. Puerto Rico has been given the 83 percent for the next five years.
“Our prior Medicaid ‘cliffs’ in the Virgin Islands (arbitrary dates where higher funding runs out) will now be a thing of the past, as we finally move toward equity in Medicaid for the territories,” said Plaskett, who added that the new law will create the certainty of continued access to health care coverage for tens of thousands of Virgin Islanders, a third of the population, indefinitely.
Additionally, for the individuals that struggle with chronic illness but have no insurance, and use the hospitals as their primary healthcare providers, the hundreds of million dollars available to the territory through this increase will provide some relief for the unfunded liability that the main healthcare facilities have dealt with over the years, said Plaskett.
The omnibus bill also secures community project funding for the U.S. Virgin Islands that will be enacted into law when it receives Biden’s signature:
— $900,000 under the Department of Housing and Urban Development Economic Development Initiative account for the Bright Path Holistic Wellness project;
— $200,000 for the Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas) Harbor Study project;
— $200,000 for the Christiansted Harbor Study project;
— $1,059,152 under the Department of Housing and Urban Development Economic Development Initiative account for the Christiansted Sunday Market Square Revitalization project;
— $1,964,210 under the Department of Housing and Urban Development Economic Development Initiative account for the Community First Tiny Homes Build Out Phase III project;
— $900,000 under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Operations, Research and Facilities account for the Coral and Aquatic Research and Restoration project;
— $4,000,000 under the Airport Improvement Program account for the Cyril E. King Airport Commuter Wing project;
— $4,000,000 under the Airport Improvement Program account for the Cyril E. King Airport Safety Drainage project;
— $3,984,000 under the Department of Justice Byrne Justice Assistance Grants account for the VIPD Marine Enforcement Vessels project;
— $4,000,000 under the Airport Improvement Program account for the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport Apron Rehabilitation project;
— $4,000,000 under the Airport Improvement Program account for the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport Runway project;
— $2,200,000 for the Virgin Islands Department of Education to incorporate relevant STEM opportunities for students at all levels, ensuring that STEM initiatives are included in various courses and afterschool programs;
— $995,000 for the Virgin Islands Diabetes Center of Excellence for the purchase of capital equipment required to diagnose diabetes and for services to help patients manage their diabetes;
— $1,897,000 for the Virgin Islands Fire Services to procure ambulances for emergency medical service.
“Our project funding requests specifically focus on providing solutions through social services, particularly tackling homelessness, behavioral and mental health issues, as well as improving infrastructure in the territory,” said Plaskett.
“The requests reflect the great priority my office places on the need for education, health care, community development and providing more economic opportunities to our most vulnerable populations. I am very pleased by the inclusion of my office’s FY2023 community project funding requests in this end of year legislation,” she said.
“I am also pleased that this funding legislation includes other important provisions for the Virgin Islands and other insular areas of the U.S., including an increase to Department of the Interior funding for assistance to territories, and a directive for the Secretary of the Interior to install a plaque at the peak of Ram Head on St. John to commemorate the 1733 slave rebellion on St. John.
There are also funding increases for energy and environmental protection programs, infrastructure programs, housing programs, research and development, and more funding for federal security assistance to the Caribbean basin, said Plaskett.
“Lastly, this legislation supports our U.S. travel and tourism industry, including by directing the Department of Commerce to develop a 10-year travel and tourism strategy with annual goals to boost the industry. This provision will also establish an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism in the Department of Commerce, appointed by the president,” said the delegate.
“I am grateful to our Caucus for their masterful leadership in crafting a strong, bicameral, bipartisan government funding bill that secured an enormous increase in non-defense discretionary funding — investing heavily in families and workers, honoring our commitment to our veterans, and strengthening Democracy at home and abroad.”