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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, January 30, 2023
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Christensen Talks Medicaid, Energy at Forum

Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen fielded questions from about 30 St. Croix Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen at Thursday's town hall meeting.residents Thursday night at a town hall meeting. Christensen has held public forums on all three islands this week to brief the public on her priorities in the new Congress.

Energy was a hot topic of concern for many of the residents present. Christensen told the crowd that she had already submitted two bills in 113th Congress to help ease energy costs in the territory.

The first would direct the secretary of the interior to assemble a team of experts to study energy needs in the U.S. territories and identify ways to limit their reliance on fossil fuels.

The second, titled “The Virgin Islands Energy Crisis Relief Act,” would allocate money to directly subsidize a portion of Virgin Islanders’ energy bills.

Christensen also said that she was attempting to organize a meeting in Washington, D.C., with Gov. John deJongh Jr., V.I. Water and Power Authority Executive Director Hugo Hodge, representatives from other territories and officials from the various federal energy agencies to brainstorm ways to bring rapid relief to the territories.

One attending resident asked Christensen about the ongoing negotiations with Hovensa, but she responded that her office was not involved, as it was not a federal issue.

“We’re not involved with the negotiation,” she said. “We know as much as anyone else listening to the State of the Territory [address].”

Christensen also fielded a number of questions about border security. She said that she was still lobbying to have a postal inspector reassigned to the territory, but so far she hadn’t succeeded. She assured residents that customs agents were still monitoring the mail, however, and had intercepted both drugs and weapons being sent to the Virgin Islands.

The congresswoman was also hopeful that the new bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform bill announced earlier this month could strengthen the territory’s borders.

“In order to get the Republicans to buy this, you have to put in border protection,” she said, adding that her goal was to make sure that any border enhancements were extended to include the Virgin Islands.

Christensen spent the most time addressing questions about the territory’s access to Medicaid.

She told the crowd that she continued to lobby the government to raise the proportion of Medicaid expenses it reimburses. Currently the federal government pays 55 percent of Medicaid costs with the territory picking up the remainder.

This rate is fixed for all U.S. territories and is much lower than rates paid to states.

Christensen said that an amendment added to the Affordable Care Act to raise the territories’ Medicaid match to the lowest rate paid to states (somewhere in the 70 percent range) passed the House, but was removed in the Senate version of the bill.

Despite losing that amendment, she said the Virgin Islands made significant gains in Medicaid funding through ACA.

“Normally we’d be getting $16 million in federal funding. Now we’re getting at least $40 million,” she said.

Christensen tackled a few local issues as well. She listened to complaints about the state of the territory’s roads and informed the crowd that a bill passed by the last Congress would award the Virgin Islands $16 million dollars this year and next for road improvements.

She also heard complaints about the lack of a ferry between St. Thomas and St. Croix. Christensen said she believed all of the federal money required for the project had been allocated and she promised to contact the Department of Public Works to get an update on the project.

Finally Christensen gave an update on the proposed St. Croix National Heritage Area. Despite support from the Department of the Interior, legislation authorizing heritage area status for the island did not come up for a vote in the last Congress.

Heritage area status is bestowed to regions of the country with unique historical or cultural resources. It allows local organizations to apply for up to $1 million in grants to bolster preservation and cultural tourism initiatives. The entire island of St. Croix is currently applying for heritage area status.

Christensen said that if Congress continues to delay the bill, it may be possible to have the president unilaterally establish the heritage area. She said she wanted to make sure such a move would not jeopardize the islands ability to access funding, however, before pursuing that option.

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