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SENATORS UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF THE V.I. DEVELOPMENT DISABILITIES COUNCIL AND THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Published: Sep 8, 2020

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services chaired by Sen. Oakland Benta convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday to receive testimony on infrastructure, daily operations, and federal grant funds of the Virgin Islands Developmental Disabilities Council (VIDDC). Lawmakers were also updated on the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Virgin Islands. Invited testifiers are officials from the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services (DHS), the Virgin Islands Developmental Disabilities Council (VIDDC), and the Virgin Islands Department of Health (DOH). “This is a very informative meeting that allows for clarity and transparency on the roles of VIDHS, VIDDC, and the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Sen. Benta said.

Kimberly Causey-Gomez, Commissioner of DHS noted that VIDDC was restructured in 2011 to be inclusive of people with “intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families to allow participation in the services and programs.” As a result of the re-establishment of VIDDC, the agency is currently receiving federal funds awarded to DHS through the Consolidated Block Grant. Furthermore, Causey-Gomez mentioned that DHS is under the rules, policies, and procedures of the Social Services Block Grant. VIDDC receives $250,000 per year to maintain operations from DHS through the Consolidated Block Grant application. A local match is not required for VIDDC because they are under the DHS Consolidated Block Grant. Causey-Gomez added that according to the expenditure rules and procurement of the Government of the Virgin Islands all monies must be expended and the obligation and liquidation of the annual grant award for VIDDC have to be completed within a two-year fiscal period.

Presently, the Virgin Islands Developmental Disabilities Council lacks onsite offices that force employees to work from home. VIDDC is short-staffed and is unable to hire employees due to the lack of offices. VIDDC has three checking accounts to manage operations and federal funds, according to VIDDC Territorial Executive Director Yvonne Petersen. Furthermore, Peterson stated that the daily operations are inclusive of conducting administrative tasks and overseeing the Development Disabilities Program with a focal on advocacy and public policy. Regarding system change, Petersen indicated that VIDDC conducted a comprehensive review and assessment of the Public Transportation System and hosted an ADA training with stakeholders and partners. Lastly, the Virgin Islands Developmental Disabilities Council are recipients of Federal Funds through the DHS Social Services Block Grant, a re-allotment from The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s Federal Funds, and a Family to Family/Health Information Center Grant.

Separately, policymakers were updated on the status of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Territory. DOH Commissioner Justa Encarnacion stated that there is a steady decline in positive cases. To date, there are 17,459 people under investigation, 1,191 positive cases, and 18 deaths. Moreover, DOH expanded testing with a total of 24 Abbot Now machines. The CDC deployed Epidemiologists to the Territory to assist with infection control. There is an increase in medical-grade PPE stockpiles and there are adequate medical supplies. Encarnacion further mentioned that both hospitals expanded their COVID-19 capacity in case there is a surge. Through a partnership with the Port Authority and the Department of Tourism, travel-related screening of all passengers has expanded and a large phase of the governor’s travel advisory is in effect.                                                                                    ###

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