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Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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Governor Hopes For Extension of Pandemic Unemployment Benefit

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. discusses an extension of pandemic unemployment benefits during Monday’s news conference. (Screenshot)

The U.S. Congress adjourned in early August for its summer recess without reaching an agreement on a new stimulus package, but the territory will apply to take advantage of an extra $300 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits to help ease the financial strain brought on by the ongoing public health crisis, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said during a Monday news conference.

In July, the governor had described a proposed second package working its way through Congress as the “shot in the arm” needed to maintain the level of government services as the world continues to ride out the impacts of the pandemic and provide the wiggle room necessary to pay financial obligations.

Among other things, the government has continued to lobby for: Another round of stimulus checks; the forgiveness of $300 million in community disaster loans taken out by the USVI after the last hurricanes; an extension of unemployment insurance benefits for those who have not returned to work but continued to pay bills; payroll tax cuts for businesses; and additional funds so businesses can stay open and remain viable.

Monday, Bryan said without federal action it will be difficult for the territory to move forward, and he committed to signing onto the federal government’s new supplemental unemployment benefits program, which provides another $300 weekly for those who qualify. The previous $600 in weekly supplemental benefits expired in July, and while Congress was unable to agree on an extension and Senate Republicans left the capital without a deal, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to provide the reduced amount.

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Meanwhile, Bryan thanked senators who voted in a favor of a proposed securitization bill that aims to bring upwards of $200 million into the territory over the next three years, offering the chance at stabilizing the Government Employees’ Retirement System and providing a cache of funds for future projects. The proposal hinges upon the creation of a semi-autonomous government-owned corporation, to which the government will sell the rights to the territory’s Matching Fund debt. The corporation would then refinance the debt, giving the U.S. Virgin Islands renewed access to the bond markets, a lower interest rate and new money, Bryan has said.

The bill was heavily amended in a special session last week, with senators requiring the government to present its financing plan for approval. Monday, Bryan described the eight senators who voted in favor of the legislation as “brave,” and said they “understand that there is no way home unless we go through the forest of risk.”

Seeking to clarify the intent of the bill, Bryan added that it simply authorizes the government to “fully engage in exploring this opportunity with the necessary parties in order to refinance the debt.”

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“It sets up the stage for us to be able to go to the bond market and see if they would be interested in what we have to offer,” Bryan added.

Voting in favor of the bill were Senators Alicia Barnes, Marvin Blyden, Allison DeGazon, Novelle Francis Jr., Donna Frett-Gregory, Stedmann Hodge Jr., Myron Jackson and Athneil “Bobby” Thomas.

Editor’s Note: The V.I. government plans to apply for the extended unemployment, it has not done so yet. This story initially said otherwise but has been corrected.

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