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SENATORS UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF THE V.I. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

Published: Dec 1, 2020

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development chaired by Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory met Tuesday at the Capitol Building to receive testimony on the status of the Virgin Islands Department of Labor (VIDOL) on the Unemployment Insurance, the State Program, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program. Separately, officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE) scheduled for today’s meeting were a no-show. Bill No. 33-0449 advances to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

“My office has been inundated with complaints regarding issues with the unemployment programs. Today we will learn of the issues, and challenges of VIDOL,” Sen. Frett-Gregory said. VIDOL Commissioner Gary Malloy stated that some of the challenges VIDOL is facing are inclusive of implementation delays because the Unemployment System is not designed to support new programs under the CARES ACT, the lack of claimants reporting wages once employment resumes, and the inability to contact claimants due to inactive contact information. Sen. Kurt Vialet inquired about the process to ensure that claimants with insufficient contact information, can still be reached to be recertified for eligible services. In response, Malloy noted that a listing can be posted in the newspaper and VIDOL can mail an application for extended benefits along with the notice of a final check. Despite Malloy’s claims that VIDOL receives many phone calls per day, Sen. Frett-Gregory suggested that VIDOL lean in on challenges and concerns of residents suffering in the community. “I think it is important to have a message system in place because individuals are complaining that when they call VIDOL, they cannot reach a representative,” Sen. Frett-Gregory said.

Moreover, Malloy noted that thus far a total of $93,000,000 which is equivalent to the issuance of 82,550 unemployment checks, were disseminated from VIDOL to claimants since April 2020. On May 27, 2020, VIDOL issued 3,118 checks in one day totaling $8,528,400. Malloy indicated that although there is a balance of $81,175,160.52 for the Unemployment Trust Fund loan VIDOL requested an additional $37,000,000 to assist with the surge of applicants due to the adverse impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Nonetheless, Malloy stated that there is a 3.3% decline in the unemployment rate that was 12.7% in September 2020 and reduced to 9.4% in October 2020. As of November 29th, VIDOL received 17,259 applications. Out of that, there are 16,307 new claims.

Separately, due to previous commitments, officials from VIDOE were absent from the hearing. VIDOE was scheduled to testify on the first marking period, plans for student’s return to classrooms, classroom arrangements, availability of chrome books and MIFI devices, and the expenditure of Federal Funds. Ultimately, lawmakers voted to subpoena officials for a meeting on December 11th.

Lastly, senators voted favorably for Bill No. 33-0449- to amend Title 17 V.I.C., chapter 15 relating to the Virgin Islands Higher Education Scholarship Program to extend eligibility for scholarships to students in the Dual Credit Program. The measure seeks to include high school students admitted to the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) under the Dual Credit Program in the 11th and 12th grades. The bill mandates that the students are exempt from the requirements to sign contracts committing to working in the Virgin Islands. The Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Janelle Sarauw indicated that tuition and books are funded through the existing Free Tuition Program. President of UVI Dr. David Hall noted that it is advantageous for high school students to begin earning college credits at UVI.                 ###

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