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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 21, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentSenate Looks into Employment Rates and Social Security Checks

Senate Looks into Employment Rates and Social Security Checks

Sen. Marvin A. Blyden puts invited testifiers to the challenge with lines of fiery questions. (Photo courtesy V.I. Legislature)

After learning that there have been more than 300 resignations within the government over the past fiscal year, Sen. Marvin A. Blyden was dismayed to learn from Personnel Director Cindy Richardson that there was no clear explanation why.

“I just provided the information that was for the entire fiscal year. The exit interview does not happen at the level of the Division of Personnel — it happens with the respective agency,” Richardson said in response to questions from Blyden during Tuesday’s Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting.

Calling for a more in-depth analysis, Blyden noted that there’s also been a decrease in employees in the construction field, which he said he expected to “be more lucrative.”

“Without recovery efforts, we expect these to go up. While the information was submitted by the Bureau of Economic Research, the time period for the report was from the fiscal year 2020 to 2022. I am hoping that once these come online, they will go up,” Finance Commissioner Bosede Bruce responded, joining Richardson and other financial team members for the hearing.

Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens also expressed his concerns with the number of hires, vacancies and resignations within the territory and said, “We need to do better with these funny numbers. We only hired only four people last year.”

Richardson, giving a more in-depth explanation of the number, said that every promotion and rehire counts as a vacancy being filled for the system’s algorithm.

Responding to concerns added by Sen. Samuel Carrión about the completion of 1,205 Notices of Personnel Action (NOPAs) out of 5,903 processed, Richardson added that there have been over 2,800 salary changes, along with NOPAs processed to include miscellaneous military leave, military leave without pay, change in titles, and deceased pay that all make up the remainder.

Social Security Checks

With Office of Management and Budget Director Jenifer O’Neal absent from Tuesday’s hearing, Bruce was left to field questions about the issuance of Social Security premium paychecks that are left to be issued. 

While Blyden suggested an online system, Bruce said there are plans to do an overall listing though the premium pay processing is “all being done manually.”

Sen. Donna A. Frett-Gregory followed up with questions about premium pay regarding part-time and full-time employees who have received payment from one job (part-time) and not the other (full-time).

“Do people receive premium pay twice or based on their primary employment? Not all positions are created equal as far as premium pay is concerned, and we know people who have only received payment on their part-time and not their full-time. What is their premium pay amount? Is there an across-the-board amount, or is there a sliding scale as it relates to how it is paid?” questioned Frett-Gregory.

Any citizen of the Virgin Islands will receive only one premium paycheck, up to a certain amount, Bruce responded, adding that because the process is done manually, the agency will flag anyone who appears on two spreadsheets. Whichever job is processed first in the job the citizen will be paid out for in premium pay, she said.

Bruce gave an example stating that if the agency receives the paperwork from the citizens’ part-time jobs first and if their names appear on a second spreadsheet, they will be flagged and will not receive premium pay for the second job, regardless if it is their full-time job.

“This is a problem,” Frett-Gregory responded. “We did not think this through. Our messaging needs to be clear. This puts the employee at a disadvantage. We have to really think about these things as we flesh these out. We kind of failed at the intent and we need to recognize that this is a problem and communication is key.”

Bruce continued to explain the major issue, saying, “outside of the government, we have to wait for the companies to submit their paperwork, so if they do not we don’t even know that employee existed.”

Frett-Gregory went on to note that there have been people who have received two payments and some who have received none, further exposing the issue with the program at hand. Those who received two payments should do the right thing and give back the second payment, she added.

In response to questions about the deadline for private sector businesses to apply, Bruce noted that the deadline has been extended numerous times and that the application period has been closed.

Asked by Sen. Dwayne M. DeGraff if it was possible for the local government to obtain the missing information for the 1,575 checks from the federal Social Security Office to alleviate any further confusion, Bureau of Internal Revenue Director Joel Lee said the majority of the recipients receive direct deposits and that the information is too sensitive to be disclosed.

 

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