St. Thomas 𑁋 Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett announced in a statement that the U.S. Virgin Islands has received a waiver to provide SNAP benefits through May 31, 2020. According to the Virgin Islands Department of Health, the territory has 17 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of Sunday evening with no fatalities reported.
The delegate representing the Virgin Islands in Congress is expected to share details about a bipartisan deal that was struck between the White House and the U.S. Senate later today — particularly details on how the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package will affect residents living in the territory. The bill has not been signed into law at the moment but Republican and Democratic senators said early Wednesday morning that they have reached a deal.
“At last, we have a deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on the Senate floor shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday. “After days of intense discussions, the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic.”
Families receiving SNAP benefits and WIC in the territory have been included in recent legislation passed by the House of Representatives, the Senate, and signed into law by President Trump.
“The USDA has approved the Virgin Islands waiver requests to allow WIC program remote issuance of benefits. During COVID-19 response local agencies are closed or hours significantly disrupted and social distancing is practiced,” Plaskett said. “This important waiver allows the Virgin Islands to automatically load monthly benefits onto a WIC card. Remote issuance facilitates continued access to healthy foods and formula for enrolled children, women, mothers and babies during COVID-19 related disrupted services.”
Trump signed The Family First Coronavirus Response Act into law earlier this month to help families around the country stay afloat as Covid-19 spread from state to state, forcing the nation’s economy to retract in an unprecedented way.
“The Family First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) provides $1 billion in grant funding to help states and territories manage things like SNAP, student meals, seniors nutrition, and food banks; and additional federal funding for Medicaid,” Plaskett said in a Tuesday release. “Today I was informed that the Virgin Islands will receive a waiver until May 31, 2020.”
Weekly jobless claims rose to 281,000 the week ending on March 14, and Goldman Sachs estimates the number will climb to 2.25 million from March 15 to 21. A number of states have seen unemployment insurance offices overwhelmed by recently laid-off workers who lost their income suddenly. The unemployment rate is widely expected to spike from the historically low 3.5 percent rate it was at in February.
On Monday, Senator Donna Frett-Gregory called on Governor Albert Bryan Jr. and Plaskett to put pressure on the federal government that could lead the territory to qualify for tax subsidies as the United States sinks deeper into a financial crisis. “Just imagine if the territory was to receive tax subsidies, the debt would be significantly lower and the government’s ability to operate would not be such a challenge,” Frett-Gregory said.
“As a Member of Congress, I recognize that Americans urgently need a coordinated, fully-funded, whole-of-government response to keep us safe from the widening coronavirus epidemic. Plaskett added. “Lives are at stake, and we must act now to put families first. I commend the House leadership on taking the lead on this issue and for making provisions so Americans living in the territories are included.”
Governor Bryan is scheduled to update the public on the coronavirus response at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Media outlets will be present via telephone and radio stations in the territory will have the opportunity to broadcast Bryan’s message in realtime. Government House is expected to share new numbers about Covid-19 infections in the territory. The data provided by the Center’s for Disease Control and the World Health Organization can give residents a clear picture of what to expect today — the numbers will likely continue to trend upward.
The press conference will also be streamed live on the Government House Facebook page.