CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Virgin Islanders who lost their jobs following Hurricanes Irma and Maria may be eligible for an additional 26 weeks of disaster-related unemployment assistance, Government House said.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump signed the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 into law on Friday, following the approval of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. The Act retroactively extends unemployment benefits making an additional $8 million in assistance available to approximately 1,340 Virgin Islanders.
Extending unemployment assistance was one of the many things Governor Kenneth Mapp said he requested on behalf of the territory. Mapp said that he emphasized to members of Congress and other federal officials the special challenges of living on hurricane ravaged islands, where people can’t simply drive to another city to find work.
“I thank the President, Congress and all those who supported our efforts,” Mapp said. “In addition to doubling unemployment benefits for displaced workers, we were also successful in pushing for changes to federal law that will allow us to rebuild more thoroughly and to a much higher standard.”
The Disaster Recovery Reform Act, which is part of a comprehensive Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, includes amendments to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, advocated for by Mapp, that provides the territory additional flexibility in the use of federal disaster funding. The bill expands the use of FEMA funds for building upgrades to modern building codes and standards, as well as expands the types of resiliency projects that can be funded. The bill also increases the reimbursement rates that the Virgin Islands receives for administrative costs associated with disaster recovery and provides the territory with the option to manage direct temporary housing and permanent housing construction assistance programs in the event of future disasters.
Virgin Islands Department of Labor Commissioner Designee Averil George welcomed news of the extended disaster unemployment benefits and said the department would be notifying the public as soon as the program will begin. She urged any Virgin Islander who thinks they may be eligible to stop by the Department of Labor offices at that time for more information.
“This is wonderful news for the Virgin Islands and I thank Governor Mapp for his remarkable efforts,” George said.