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USVI issues $9.5 million in stimulus payments, creates hotline to address a spike in calls

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Charlotte Amalie 𑁋 The Bureau of Internal Revenue announced a new hotline that would allow eligible residents in the U.S. Virgin Islands to request updates about the next round of stimulus checks. The agency said its director, Joel A. Lee, moved to have the hotline created after an influx of calls flooded tax-related phone lines in 2020 and again in early 2021.

Last week, the U.S. Senate approved a budget reconciliation plan that sidelined the GOP, allowing Democrats — who hold a majority in both chambers of Congress — to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.

During a weekly press briefing on February 8, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. said that “10,000” stimulus checks have been printed and are ready to mail to eligible residents in the Virgin Islands. According to Government House, the stimulus checks, bankrolled directly from the U.S. Treasury, total over $9.5 million.

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“We anticipate issuing more payments, so if you are an eligible tax filer and have not filed your 2019 income tax return or 2019 form 1040, you need do so now or before the March 15 cutoff,” Governor Bryan said. “As a reminder again for those Social Security recipients who do not have a filing requirement, there is no need to file a return. The Bureau will utilize the information, which was received from the IRS and used to determine eligibility for the first stimulus payments, to issue your second stimulus payment.”

The Governor also spoke about the COVID-19 vaccination hotline’s success at 340-777-VACS (8227). The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) has established eligibility to make an appointment with a provider to get vaccinated. The hotline is open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and includes English and Spanish speaking staff. Residents who call outside of the hours of operation should leave their name and a call-back number.

“Since we have deployed the hotline last week, we received 600 requests for COVID-19 vaccine appointments – 540 by phone and 60 through the website,” Governor Bryan said. “Roughly, 41 percent of the calls received are from seniors age 65 or older.”

Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach Esq., who is also chairman of the Virgin Islands Banking Board, issued an order last April to the territory’s banks –that included guidance — on how to handle stimulus checks. Roach told banks that Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus payment is exempt from garnishment for outstanding loans, overdraft fees, and other fees that a customer may have incurred or otherwise owe to banks.

“We issued this order and are informing the public of it because it is important that the banks are specifically told what they cannot do with the stimulus checks via the Banking Board and so that consumers may also know their rights,” said Roach.

The Banking Board created an exemption for the CARES Act, barring the territory’s banks from garnishing personal economic impact checks. The exemption affected banks licensed and authorized to conduct business in the territory by the board.

The new hotline number is 340-714-9325. In the release, the bureau also committed to improving the customer service experience for taxpayers in the U.S. Virgin Islands.