The Department of Labor is asking for a supplemental appropriation of around $1.3 million more than the funding recommendation in Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s proposed budget, Labor Commissioner Catherine Hendry told senators during budget hearings Thursday.
The department needs $1.6 million "to address the unfunded vacant positions that are deemed critically necessary for efficient operations at VIDOL," she said. But Mapp’s budget already includes $318,000 of that funding, she said, responding to senators’ questions.
Out of 26 positions, 12 are important for generating revenue, or related to compliance and enforcement, "which are crucial elements in the effectiveness of our Unemployment Insurance Tax and Labor Relations units," she said. Without the $318,000 already included in the budget request, Labor would have to lay off three IT employees at the end of the fiscal year on Sep. 30, she said.
Collecting unpaid Unemployment Insurance premiums is a high priority because the UI trust fund still has a large $69.4 million loan balance with the federal government. The territory’s employers collectively owe $43.6 million to the trust fund, she said.
Although many of the employers still exist, much of that debt dates back to the 1980s, which may
make it difficult to collect. (See Related Links below) Legislation to change the way UI is calculated and to charge employers more if they regularly layoff employees is being prepared for submission to the Legislature, she said.
Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly urged Hendry to get the legislation to the Senate.
"My problem is we know who the culprits are," Rivera-O’Reilly said. She asked Labor to track the companies that regularly hire and lay-off temporary employees.
"I am tired of hearing you and your predecessor saying we need a change to the statute. … I have heard enough. Send the legislation so we can fix the problem, please," she said.
Hendry said, "Yes, senator … it is coming through the pipeline."
Several senators asked about the agency’s summer youth employment program. Hendry said they have received 1,385 applications for youth ages 16-24 and almost 500 have been registered to participate in the paid work-experience program.
Hendry presented the Labor Department’s proposed budget of $15.3 million. That total includes $4.38 million from the General Fund for operating costs; $1.75 million under miscellaneous funding for interest on the Unemployment Insurance trust fund loan; $1.34 million in Government Insurance funds; $1 million in other local funding; and $6.89 million in federal funding.
No votes were taken during the budget oversight hearing. Present were Rivera-O’Reilly, Sens. Novelle Francis, Sammuel Sanes, Clifford Graham, Kurt Vialet, Positive Nelson, Marvin Blyden and Tregenza Roach. Sen. Myron Jackson was absent.