The U.S. territories aren’t usually the topic of conversation or a hearing in Congress, but thanks to two companion bills, Congress may soon be addressing new benefits to the outlying territorial jurisdictions.
Senate Bill 1237, also known as the Omnibus Territories Bill will be discussed in a hearing on Thursday, July 11th. The bill was introduced in late June by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and covers a myriad of issues that are unique to the small, off-shore territories.
Delegate to Congress, Donna Christensen (D-VI) authored a companion piece of legislation that was presented in May in the House of Representatives. That Bill is H.R. 2200.
Some of the many issues being covered in the proposed Omnibus legislation (S.1237) include:
- Requiring the Department of the Interior to provide technical, policy and financial experts to address the energy demands within each jurisdiction.
- Expanding the funding for low income residents to qualify for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Act also known as LIHEAP
- Clarifying the use of certain expenditures as in-kind contributions.
- Providing the ability to waive local matching requirements for grants
Why are these points important to Virgin Islanders?
Governor John DeJongh initiated work in 2011 to address the energy needs of the Virgin Islands. As a result of this work, the VI meets most of the proposed criteria for developing an energy plan. Newly required under this bill would be periodic reporting on the territory’s progress with their plan.
The expansion of the pool of Virgin Islanders able to apply for LIHEAP assistance will be a welcome relief for many residents, especially seniors, whose WAPA bills have dramatically reduced the amount of money they have available to pay for rent, groceries, prescriptions, or other necessities.
By clarifying the types of expenditures that the VI can count as part of its in-kind contributions will enable programs like Medicaid, to fully utilize federal funding that could only be accessed when the VI’s portion of cash to run the program became available. By permitting the VI, to count services rendered as part of their in-kind contribution will allow the VI to count the millions of dollars in uncompensated care at territorial hospitals to count toward accessing federal money for programs which required matching (local and federal) money.
Section 16 of the proposed S. 1237, further enhances each territorial jurisdiction’s ability to maximize revenues. Under this provision grants requiring matching funds which were equal to or less than $500,000 would allow for all matching funds to be waived; saving the territory the need to identify and set aside funds from other projects to comply with the requirement. This section goes further by including language that states that for grants that are more than $500,000, $500,000 of the matching grant requirement would be waived. In both cases, this helps the territory get the good usage of its incoming federal dollars.
Please check back on this site to find out more about Congress’ efforts to help the territories and specifically about the status of Bill S.1237.