President Donald Trump released his 2021 budget this week. But the $4.6 trillion package does include cuts that could impact residents of U.S. territories.
U.S. Virgin Islands governor Albert Bryan, Jr. was on Capitol Hill Tuesday telling lawmakers the president’s proposed cuts to Medicaid could be devastating to Virgin Islanders. Bryan was among a panel of governors testifying on Tuesday.
The overall budget for the Office of Insular Affairs is $619 million. That’s a slight increase from years’ past. But the proposed budget either cuts or does not add funding for certain projects and programs Virgin Islands’ officials say they need, including Medicaid, coral reef repair, and more.
The territories are not alone. The president’s budget is cutting other areas in an attempt to eliminate the federal budget deficit in the next 10-to-15 years.
Bryan said there is nothing in the budget that would stimulate economic growth in the V.I. A lot has to happen between now and the deadline to pass a spending plan, which is October 1.
The point of Tuesday’s hearing, he said, is to inform lawmakers that the territories rely heavily on federal funding.
“There is no money that addresses repairing those reefs after they have been damaged,” Bryan said. “It’s a natural barrier to the shore, it stops erosion. It creates estuaries for our fish, and most importantly it creates a livelihood for our fishermen.”
There will be plenty of tweaks of changes that will happen between now and October. Those changes come as house members offer amendments.
Ahead of the budget release, we caught up with Del. Stacey Plaskett (D) of the Virgin Islands. One of her main concerns is rebuilding the v-i’s infrastructure. She’s among the lawmakers supporting the massive $760 billion transportation and infrastructure top Democrats introduced a few weeks ago.
Plaskett tells USVI News she is pushing for more funding in the budget to repair roads and bridges in the islands.
“We have not built a new road in over 20 years. We’ve just been merely fixing roads,” Plaskett explained. “We also have a strained infrastructure because unlike other places, it’s not just our population. While we have 100,000 Virgin Islanders, we have almost 2 million people coming just as cruise ship passengers.”
Bryan also hopes the Virgin Islands and other territories can become more involved in U.S. foreign policy.