ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs, and Consumer Protection, chaired by Senator Carla J. Joseph, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building. Lawmakers voted in favor of a bill honoring Aloy “Wenty” Nielson for his outstanding contributions to the community. Additionally, the Office of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs shared an update on operations, enabling laws, and challenges.
Bill No. 35-0010 – An Act honoring and commending Mr. Aloy “Wenty” Nielsen for his years of service to the Virgin Islands community and naming the Christiansted Bypass in his honor; making a $10,000 appropriation from the General Fund for signage of the Aloy Nielsen Bypass and for other related purposes The bill is sponsored by Senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, and Angel L. Bolques, Jr. Former Adjutant General of the VI National Guard, Robert Moorehead, stated that Nielson’s accomplishments stem far beyond the Christiansted Bypass. Nielson’s additional achievements were inclusive of widening the Moravian Highway on St. Thomas, the construction of the Melvin Evans Highway on St. Croix, and the development of the Christiansted Boardwalk. Senator Joseph noted that Nielson worked on so many expansions and critical roadwork in both districts. He is truly an exemplary human being who used his skills to make things happen. Similarly, Senator Francis mentioned that it is important to honor individuals while they can receive their flowers. Nielson put his blood, sweat, and tears into those projects. Ultimately, the approved item will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
The Virgin Islands Veterans Affairs Director, Patrick Farrell, shared an update on the operations. To date, the VA is fully staffed, with five employees working diligently to assist veterans. Farrell mentioned that, as of August 2022, over 300,000 veterans nationwide and locally had filed PACT-related claims. As needed, enrolled veterans can undergo a toxic exposure screening. In response to Senator Diane Capehart’s inquiry, Farrell noted that there are approximately 8,000 veterans in the Virgin Islands. To ensure accuracy, VA recently contracted a vendor to track the number of veterans currently residing in the territory. Farrell stated that he believes that 6,000 veterans remain in the territory. Regarding homeless veterans, Farrell mentioned that the VA acts as a referral agency to a non-profit organization that assists in mitigating the homeless crisis in the Territory.
The Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Richard Evangelista also shared an update. One of the major challenges plaguing DLCA is the lack of staff. Currently, there are 54 positions with 7 vacancies. The vacancies are all critical positions that must be filled in the Consumer Affairs Division. In terms of the DLCA’s Standard Operating Procedures and Policies, Evangelista stated that updating the policies and procedures is an ongoing process. DCLA’s operating budget for FY 2023 totals $4,982,210. Out of that, $4,573,710 went to the General Fund, and $408,500 went to the Special Fund appropriations. Additionally, a total of $3,315,423.24 was awarded to DCLA in grants from the American Rescue Plan Act. In response to Senator Alma Francis Heyliger’s inquiry, Evangelista stated that the ARPA funds were used to purchase kiosks at Vendor’s Plaza. There will be four vendors per kiosk. The maximum space per vendor per kiosk is 8×8. Vendors Plaza will officially open on Monday, April 17th.
Senators who attended the meeting are Carla J. Joseph, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Samuel Carrión, Javan E. James, Alma Francis Heyliger, Ray Fonseca, Marise C. James, Kenneth L. Gittens, Diane T. Capehart, and Milton E. Potter. ###