Governor-Elect Albert Bryan is making his first trip to Washington this week since winning the runoff election on Nov. 20.
On Tuesday, he met with Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.), and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long.
It comes as Virgin Island residents could be paying more to fund the hurricane relief efforts, now some 15 months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through the islands in 2017.
Plaskett hosted Bryan in her Washington, D.C. office on Tuesday. The two spoke with reporters by phone before a series of meetings with the FEMA and other Congressional leaders. The meeting comes one day after Plaskett sent a letter to Long urging him to continue extending a 100 percent federal cost share on disaster relief funding for the Virgin Islands rather than local taxpayers footing part of the bill.
“While I understand, as you have stated, the importance of jurisdictions to have ‘skin in the game’ and to be responsible and focused in the use of federal funding, the purpose of the Insular Areas Act waiver provision is the recognition that, in extraordinary or exigent circumstances (such as two category-5 hurricanes in a two-week time frame), the territories will need additional support from the federal government to meet cost share and other requirements on federal aid,” a portion of the letter said.
Long’s decision could cost local taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, Plaskett estimates. So far, the Virgin Islands has received roughly $2 billion less than the $7.5 billion in aid that was requested one year ago.
“We want to have as wide of a range as possible to do the things that we need to put us on the right track not just to rebuild what was there, but to really make a more resilient economy,” Plaskett said.
The request originally came this summer from outgoing governor, Kenneth Mapp. Now, Bryan is hoping to keep those talks going and try to reverse Long’s decision.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting Brock Long and talking to his department about how we can improve the process that’s already there,” Bryan said before the Tuesday afternoon meeting. “I think with a new governor, we kind of have a bit of a fresh start and a different way of looking at things.”
Getting the funding is the top priority, Bryan said, but he acknowledged that obtaining it may continue to be tough.
When the funds do come through, Bryan wants the money to go toward education and health care, along with what he calls “sustainable change,” in areas like economic development that will provide a long-term boost to the Virgin Islands.