Plaskett addresses on going recovery in DC meeting

Virgin Islands Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett speaking out about the on going recovery of the territory in a DC based meeting.

Plaskett participated in the Interagency Group on Insular Areas Plenary Session.

She commented on the new budget package and how it doesn’t provide anywhere near the full amount requested for the VI.

“For the Virgin Islands of the United States, devastation of two category five hurricanes have caused my office to adapt our direction and legislative priorities. In the 116th Congress the efforts related to rebuilding and resilience after the hurricanes of 2017 have brought into clear focus many long standing concerns and legislative advocacy of the Virgin Islands.  In the early morning hours of February 9th 2018, members of Congress approved a 2 year budget package that included critical disaster relief to hurricane-affected areas, including the Virgin Islands,” Plaskett said in a statement released to USVI News.

She said the budget does supports long term recovery, including improvements to infrastructure to be more resilient than before the storms hit.

“While the bill did not provide anywhere near the full amount needed or all of what was requested by the Virgin Islands, it Contains provisions to support long term recovery by providing legislative support to long standing issues that the federal government to date had not addressed.  For example, it included an important provision to allow the Virgin Islands, along with Puerto Rico, to utilize FEMA assistance to rebuild critical infrastructure to be more resilient than before Hurricanes Irma and Maria in order to withstand future storms. Much of the Virgin Islands infrastructure destruction were (aside from houses) related in large party to underfunding, off formula funding, or lack of equity in funding to the territories from the federal government. The territory has not received support for building schools, we are removed from the formulas for the highway trust fund funding in the 90’s and our lack of inclusion in DSH (disproportionate share for hospital), 1980’s CMS reimbursement rate and Medicaid issues – all were factors in the level of destruction to our schools, roads and hospitals after the storm’s.

She also signaled that she plans to introduce legislation geared to Medicaid funding soon.

“Healthcare funding is a leading example of the substantial burden the federal government has placed on local governments in the territories which cause them to make untenable decisions in funding which in the short or long term puts the territories at financial risk.. For example, regarding Medicaid – Medicaid is the main insurance payer to our hospitals, but the disparities in payment from the federal government to the States vs. the territories under the program are significant, and this has been an issue for decades.   It has become an even more serious issue in the aftermath of the natural disasters that the territories have all experienced over the past two years,” Plaskett said.

“Federal Medicaid funding to the states and DC is open-ended, while the Medicaid programs in the territories are subject to annual federal funding caps (“allotments”).  Once the cap is reached, the territory must assume the full cost of Medicaid services.  The annual federal capped funding has been supplemented by additional Affordable Care Act allotments since July 1, 2011.   This crucial support expires on Sept. 30, 2019, which has come to be known as the ‘fiscal cliff,'” she continued.

“I have been working since I started in Congress following the fight of my predecessor to address this by resolving the fundamental problem, that the territories are forced to operate Medicaid under statutory caps.  The caps are antithetical to the purpose of the program – a health safety net that is able to expand and contract based on local health needs. I have sponsored legislation, along with my colleagues from the territories, and others, to correct the inequities we face under Medicaid, in part by lifting the Medicaid caps and providing for fair inclusion of the territories in the disproportionate share hospital (or “DSH”) program.  I am proud to announce that I will be reintroducing this legislation shortly,” she added.

She finished her statement with this.

“As we execute our rebuilding and our long-term recovery, we must do so cognizant of other longstanding financial issues. While we have made significant strides and will continue to do so, we must continue to confront the difficult reality that our islands, and their U.S. citizen residents, have been neglected and allowed to fall behind,” Plaskett said.