St. Thomas 𑁋 The Virgin Islands Department of Labor (DOL) has not reported updated unemployment figures since December. The effects of the ongoing global pandemic have caused state layoffs to increase and has lead to historic economic spending backed by Congress and the White House. The latest figures reported by DOL reflected 5.2 percent unemployment throughout the territory, with an estimated 2,219 residents out of work at the end of 2019. Those numbers are now out of date with Covid-19 affecting the global economy — sectors like tourism and travel continue to take major losses as the global pandemic deepens.
“Unemployment rates were higher in March in 29 states and the District of Columbia, lower in 3 states, and stable in 18 states,” a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reads. “Twenty-three states had jobless rate increases from a year earlier, 3 states had decreases, and 24 states and the District had little or no change. The national unemployment rate rose by 0.9 percentage point over the month to 4.4 percent and was 0.6 points higher than in March 2019.”
The report was published by the BLS on April 17th and reflects the latest numbers tallied by the federal government. The BLS is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor and is a federal agency that measures and reports labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy.
The latest census data shows that job-based coverage accounted for 55 percent of Americans’ health insurance, with restaurant jobs and other positions in the service industry less likely to offer health benefits. “The total civilian labor force (not seasonally adjusted) for [the] Virgin Islands in December, 2019 was 42,833 of which 40,614 were employed and 2,219 were unemployed,” DOL said. “The unemployment rate was 5.2 percent.” The Virgin Islands is taking a particularly hard blow from the effects of Covid-19, with much of its tourism-based economy at a virtual standstill.
“The U.S. Virgin Islands is uniquely dependent on tourism. The devastating impact of the pandemic across our entire tourism sector – cruise ship arrivals, airline passengers and traffic, resorts and hotels, restaurants, and all related services – has been an enduring disaster without apparent end,” Bryan wrote in a letter to Congressional leadership. “Further, the cruise ship lockdown has now been extended to an additional 100 days.”
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Bryan-Roach administration requested a number of items, adding to the emergency measures he requested from the Congressional leaders on April 8.
The Governor said to overcome this disaster, the territory needs and has requested a cash infusion through:
- Cancellation of Community Disaster Loans from Hurricanes Irma and Maria ($300 million).
- An increase in CARES Act funding through a change in the set-aside for the insular areas ($206 million).
- Waiving the local cost-share for Hurricanes Irma and Maria (about $500 million) and the current COVID-19 disaster declaration (TBD).
- Cancellation of the Unemployment Trust Fund Debt (about $60 million).
Governor Bryan also requested:
- Full reimbursement of federal tax provisions imposed on the USVI by the CARES Act; Earned Income Tax Credit; Child Tax Credit; and other federal enactments paid by local treasury through the Mirrored Tax Code.
- Equal treatment and reimbursement to local hospitals equivalent to that provided to hospitals in the States.
- Promotion of investment in the Territory as a path to economic stability and sustainability.
- Forgiveness of SBA loans from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Enhanced funding and resources for border patrol and protection to stop the porous entry of high-risk COVID-19 undocumented immigrants through the Territory.
Byan’s administration said it has begun the necessary steps in preparation from stimulus checks issued by the Department of Treasury. “We’re in the process of arranging the specifics of the transfer from the U.S. treasury to our treasury locally. All of this is to make sure that you get that tax stimulus check as quickly as possible,” Bryan said. He said checks will begin to arrive in the territory in late April and his administration has begun identifying eligible taxpayers and their most recent mailing addresses.
“We need to put more money back into the Territory. We are trying all sources for possible rescue from this incredible crisis that is not our making or the result of our decision-making,” Bryan wrote to Congressional leaders. “I urge and thank you for favorable action on these requests to benefit the people, businesses and government of this U.S. Territory.”
Government House has now amplified calls for the federal government to do more to assist during the territory’s economic crisis which was caused by a global health crisis. Bryan’s administration issued a statement late Monday — which caught senators off guard — detailing the administration is seeking $1.1 billion in federal aid. Administration officials evidently did not coordinate with members of the 33rd Legislature before telling the Virgin Islands Consortium about the request to members of Congress on Tuesday, which is larger than the territory’s annual budget.
“Due to the effects of the illness and efforts to contain the virus, Puerto Rico was not able to conduct normal data collection for its household survey in March 2020; therefore, its data were not published,” the BLS report explained. “Household data for Puerto Rico are not modeled, but rather are derived from a monthly household survey similar to the Current Population Survey.” The U.S. Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories were absent from the federal agency’s latest report.