Why the U.S. Virgin Islands wants financial help from FEMA

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Virgin Islands' non-voting delegate in Congress wants the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue to waive the local cost-share of the continuing effort to rebuild in the wake of the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Rep. Stacey Plaskett made the request in a letter sent Wednesday to FEMA Administrator Brock Long.

“The territory has borrowed up to full capacity, including through participation in the Community Disaster Loan program,” she told Long.

A similar request is expected to be made to FEMA next week by the territory's Gov. Kenneth Mapp when he visits Washington.

The three islands -- St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix -- have received more than $1 billion in federal disaster assistance through March 27, according to FEMA spokesman Manuel Broussard.

That money included $449.7 million for removal of debris and restoration of power and utilities.

The FEMA waiver for a local cost share, however, is set to expire after May 14.

“Any additional extensions are under review at this time,” the FEMA spokesman said.

The territory already has received a local cost share waiver for Medicaid health services for the poor through the Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year.

Hurricane Irma made a direct hit on the islands of St. John and St. Thomas on Sept. 6, followed 13 days later by Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island of St. Croix.

Plaskett requested the waivers for federal assistance under the Public Assistance Program emergency work and infrastructure repair program and the Hazard Mitigation and Other Needs Assistance program.

The only alternative for the cash-strapped territory to fund its local match would be to use reuse its Community Development Block Grant for that purpose, she wrote in her letter.

“Since the USVI has exhausted its local financial resources and reached the limit of its borrowing capacity, it simply cannot shoulder the burden of the local share for any federal disaster-related funding programs,” Plaskett said.

FEMA has concentrated its effort to date on debris removal such as building wreckage, destroyed vehicles, downed trees, sand, silt and mud as well as emergency protective measures including the restoration of power and other utilities.

The longer-term reconstruction effort is still in the formative stage.

“Hospitals are being assessed,” the FEMA spokesman said. “Schools are being assessed. Public infrastructure is being assessed. They are assessing what the damage is and what needs to be done, what it’s going to cost.”

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Hurricane Maria Hurricane Irma Natural disasters Government of the Virgin Islands FEMA Washington DC U.S. Virgin Islands