When the delegate to Congress appeared before residents of St. John this week, she brought words of progress in her pursuit of broader Medicaid coverage and expanded voting rights for citizens living in U.S. Insular areas.
Plaskett’s public outreach, called Congress on Your Corner, provided a chance to report on her efforts in the House of Representatives. About 75 people showed up to St. Ursula’s Multipurpose Center Tuesday to attend the scheduled two-hour session.
The delegate highlighted the effort she and other elected officials from American Samoa and Guam are waging for Medicaid expansion.
Currently, citizens living in insular areas get a fraction of the federal health care dollars as that given to U.S. states. The Medicare Equities Act is under development in an effort towards reform, the delegate said.
“If the effort is successful, the Virgin Islands would receive the same level of Medicaid compensation as Mississippi,” Plaskett said. That would bring in $27 million additional funds to the territory.
Efforts to increase access to healthcare through Medicaid and Medicare expansion date back to the term of Congressional Delegate Donna Christensen. The opportunity to increase funding came after the Great Recession in 2008, when President Barack Obama allowed expansion of federal health insurance to insular areas as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Plaskett cautioned the audience that even if the current effort succeeds, local lawmakers will also have to do their part to get increased funding into those places in the healthcare system that allow for greater patient access among the poor, low income and low wage working class people.
There was also talk about HR 1, the bill reserved by the leader of the House of Representatives for measures they will personally promote during their term. For former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, HR 1 was reserved to address tax reform.
For Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the priority is voting rights, ethics in government and campaign reform. As a result, Plaskett said, a Voting Rights for the Territories Task Force is taking shape that will look at voting rights for citizens in the territories, including the U.S. Virgin Islands. One of the first steps the task force will take is to gather data they hope will quantify the ways a lack of voting rights hurts those living in the territories.
Now in her second Congressional term, Plaskett’s work on committees and subcommittees has expanded to include the House Oversight Committee. The shift gave her an opportunity to use the skills she learned as a former prosecutor, she said.
It was while working in Oversight during recent hearings involving the scandal surrounding President Donald Trump that Plaskett gained national notoriety by rolling her eyes at the rantings of Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan.
But Plaskett also assured her constituents that in spite of images carried on television, lawmakers from different political parties work together more than they fight.
“You may see us arguing and having heated discussions on the floor but members really do work together,” she said.
Like many of her fellow lawmakers, the V.I. delegate is using the one-week break in Congressional session to hear directly from her constituents. In anticipation of questions from residents still recovering from damage suffered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Plaskett also brought along members of her staff to form breakout groups and allow those with questions to ask them.
This round of Congress on Your Corner meetings began March 18 on St. Croix.