CHRISTIANSTED — Governor Albert Bryan testified remotely today before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources and told federal lawmakers that Virgin Islanders are well-versed in resilience and building back; however, the territories lack the financial support from the federal government that would allow them to stay abreast of the constant challenges they face.
“The funds that we got through the American Rescue Plan will go a long way toward helping our Territory recover, as well as for all of the territories,” Governor Bryan said. “But a major continuing problem is our financial inability to maintain our roadways, our power plants and all the infrastructure, to train our workforce and to constantly adapt to these ever-changing threats.
“Securing our infrastructure under the ‘Build Back Better’ plan will be crucial for the territories in order for us to be able to build back,” the Governor said. “We hope that the Biden Administration continues to support us and help us develop comprehensive plans that address resilience.”
Governor Bryan told the committee members that the biggest help and the biggest hinderance to the territories having the ability to be on par with the mainland states has been the federal government.
“Restrictions between FEMA and HUD have created impossible hurdles to rebuilding. They simply have to understand that we cannot wait 10 years to build back,” Governor Bryan said. “A quick fix to help us with our financial obligations would be for this body to back the full debt of the territories. This would give us the ability to borrow money at the 1 percent that is being issued today and would free up millions of dollars of capital that we now pay in interest.”
The Governor talked about the Territory’s efforts in the face of COVID-19 to return to the budding and rising economy in place when the pandemic hit.
He cited the Marine sector, such as the USVI’s ability to attract and maintain charter vessels and dredging the harbors in Charlotte Amalie and St. Croix, as a specific economic sector that could benefit greatly by the “Build Back Better” plan.
“We remain optimistic that the Administration and Congress will support our territorial leadership. Not just the Virgin Islands, but all of us,” Governor Bryan said. “The ‘Build Back Better’ plan represents an opportunity to liberate the Virgin Islands – and all of our territories – from fiscal distress and build a sustainable local economy that can withstand periodic natural and economic disaster.
“It is also an opportunity to invest in our people,” the Governor said. “As we recently celebrated our 100th anniversary of being an American territory, you can ensure that we are prepared for the next 100 years, strengthening our infrastructure and eliminating federal policies that undermine our ability to attract investment that will give us a fighting chance to make our second century as Americans better than the first.”