ST THOMAS, USVI -- Governor John de Jongh submitted a detailed memorandum of critical issues of concern to the US Virgin Islands to Lorraine Faeth, acting assistant secretary for insular areas, in advance of Tuesday’s 2014 senior plenary meeting of the Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA) and territorial governors.
The meeting was attended by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and David Agnew, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs, who also co-chairs the IGIA, as well as other senior-level officials of the federal government and representatives from American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, Guam, and the Virgin Islands.
The IGIA was established in 1999 to provide a mechanism for improved communication and coordination between the federal government and its territories.
Governor John de Jongh
"I was unable to attend this year's IGIA session as I had to return to the territory on Tuesday, but at the same time, I wanted to ensure that our concerns were properly highlighted at the meeting and taken into consideration throughout the year,” de Jongh said.
He added, “I had an opportunity to discuss a majority of these areas with acting Assistant Secretary Faeth and Director Nik Pula at our meeting on the rum cover-over last Friday and used that opportunity to provide an even more comprehensive perspective as to their impact on our residents."
In his memorandum, de Jongh listed 12 areas of "critical importance to the economic development and fiscal independence of the Virgin Islands, for the IGIA and on-going interaction with the Department of the Interior.
Under the broader heading of "Tax Issues", the list included the rum tax cover-over rate extension, the Rockefeller Amendment/Treasury Regulations which pertain to amending residence and sourcing rules for possessions, revising the treatment of capital gains, and earned income credit cost sharing.
For "Healthcare," the governor included the extension of Medicaid "J" waiver authority to all US territories, which would provide flexibility in meeting legal and administrative requirements of the law, the extension of state-like Federal Medical Assistance Percentages to all territories, and inadequate Medicare reimbursement for US Virgin Islands hospitals under the outdated Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982.
The governor listed three issues under the "Homeland Security" heading. They are a proposed special visa waiver program for the US Virgin Islands that would lead to increased tourism and opportunities for hosting international special events, support for full federal funding of customs services in the US Virgin Islands, and expansion of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative to include the US territories in the Caribbean, or establishment of a comparable program with similar financial resources and programs.
For "Early Education," the item for discussion is the inclusion of the US territories in President Obama's Plan for Early Education for all Americans.
The 12th issue, under "Transportation," is an appeal to restore the 20 percent funding cut to the territorial highway program.
"The issues have not necessarily changed over the years but resolution is more critical to us in order for the Virgin Islands to be competitive regionally, ensure quality of life issues and attain financial sustainability that can lead to so many other benefits on behalf of our community," de Jongh said on Tuesday night.
The memorandum described in detail each issue, its impact on the US Virgin Islands and other territories, and a suggested remedy.