The U.S. Virgin Islands is still without the infrastructure needed to prepare for hurricane season, despite billions of dollars in federal assistance.
Instead, Gov. Kenneth Mapp wants to use federal disaster aid and housing authority money to bailout the island’s soon-to-be insolvent public employees pension fund, called the Government Employees’ Retirement System (GERS).
GERS is expected to become insolvent by 2024, and Mapp’s plan would only delay insolvency for another year, according to reports. Mapp wants high-paid employees to contribute more to their pensions, but they are still eligible for up to $75,000 a year in benefits.
Meanwhile, Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) officials said the Virgin Islands lacks mobile hospital units and emergency shelters to keep everyone safe should another major storm hit, The Virgin Islands Daily News reported.
It’s been nearly 10 months since Hurricane Maria devastated the Virgin Islands. Maria also caused billions of dollars worth of damage across Puerto Rico and Florida. (RELATED: Virgin Islands Allows National Guard To Seize Guns, Ammo Ahead Of Hurricane Irma)
Maria’s outer wall hit St. Croix island last fall, bringing torrential rain and strong winds. Two week earlier, Hurricane Irma hit St. Thomas and St. John as a Category 5 storm. Both hurricanes caused an immense amount of damage to the island territory.
Despite FEMA spending more than $1.6 billion on recovery efforts, the head of UVI’s emergency management agency Mona Barnes admitted of the 20 facilities emergency inspected “maybe two or three that we can probably use as shelter.”
Barnes said UVI and FEMA officials were considering moving people off the island ahead of a major hurricane. More than 10,000 Virgin Islands residents are waiting on their homes to be rebuilt since Hurricane Maria.
“We might have to move residents, and so we now have to start thinking about those 10,600 people that’s part of the emergency housing program, if they don’t get a roof on and they’re under a blue roof and we have to move them,” Barnes said.
The mobile hospital units “were supposed to be in place months ago, but were delayed due to mismanagement by local government officials,” The Daily News reported. Some delivered “units are sitting unused in parking lots because contracts for installation were improperly administered, and it’s unclear when the units will be operational,” according to the report.
FEMA’s Bill Vogel laid the blame at the feet of Virgin Islands officials, but a U.S. Senate report issued in April found mismanagement of contracts for tarps and plastic sheeting used to prevent water damage.
“Much of this inventory was exhausted during the initial response to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, leaving limited supplies to address the devastation of Maria,” reads the Senate report.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long said agency workers were getting necessary supplies in place this year, and that more money would be committed to the Virgin Islands.
“FEMA up to this point has put over $1.6 billion to work in the Virgin Islands and we won’t be stopping there,” Long said.
“We have nearly 400 staff here that continue to work day in and day out to eect recovery and to help the governor meet his goals on the recovery aspect, and we’ll continue to be here for years supporting the Virgin Islands to get back on their feet,” Long said.
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