St. Croix—The Committee on Education and Workforce Development, chaired by Senator Genevieve Whitaker, received an update on workforce development in the territory during a hearing held on Friday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix.
The Committee heard from the VI Department of Labor (VIDOL) regarding the Unemployment Insurance, Loss Wages Assistance Program and the Federal Unemployment Assistance Program.
Gary Molloy, Commissioner, VIDOL, said the Unemployment Insurance program collects quarterly employer contributions and provides benefits under the regular unemployment insurance program. He also noted that the pandemic-related programs are: (1) the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance ((PUA); (2) Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC); and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). He added that Congress passed these programs under the CARES Act of 2020.
According to Molloy, the unemployment program, as of May 2, 2020, disbursed $133,470,431 in payments during this pandemic. Of that amount in 2020, $106,977,750 was compensated and 26,492,681 as of the end of March 2021. Additional compensations were: regular unemployment compensation, $54,323,340; PEUC, $8,075,612PUA, $15,840,993; $54,323,340, FPUC; and $1,435,034 in extended benefits (EB).
He added that in addition to the above programs under the US Department of Labor, an additional $5,026,288 in lost wages program monies were disbursed. Furthermore, an executive order signed by former President Trump granted funds for supplement payments of $300.00, which ended on December 27, 2020.
He pointed out that VIDOL is currently finalizing payments on this program since no extension was given. However, he said FEMA had given VIDOL until September of 2021 to finish disbursing the remaining funds from the $7,323,000 award.
Commissioner Molloy and his staff also provided a PowerPoint presentation that detailed the process of applying for regular unemployment. On March 29, 2021, the lobby area of the VI Department of Labor re-opened to serve customers. Individuals seeking assistance are seen by appointment only, and services are rendered utilizing virtual platforms such as Zoom, Facetime, phone, and email. In addition, the Workforce Development Team continues to serve individuals referred to the department from other partner agencies virtually.
Currently, plexiglass partitions are being installed in the Resource Rooms as the department plans to expand its service delivery to individuals who need one-on-one assistance, said Commissioner Molloy.
In Block II of the day’s schedule, the Committee received testimony on workforce development, educational development, agriculture opportunities, employment opportunities, and the community development block grant workforce development award.
David Hall, President of the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), updated senators on the Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service. President Hall said, “Thus far, the School of Agriculture has added four certificates: Agro Business, Agro Tourism, Horticulture and Forestry, and Nursery Management.”
Additionally, the entire UVI faculty has approved a new Associate of Applied Science degree in horticulture and another in agroecology, which will be forwarded to the Board for approval.
The Committee also heard from Michael Carty, Chairman of the Virgin Islands Workforce Development Board. Carty said the Board’s current initiatives entail ongoing negotiations for deliverables contained in the One‐Stop Operator contract. “We responded to contract questions posed by the selected vendor and identified certain provisions that were non-negotiables for the Government of the Virgin Islands. We estimate this process will be complete by or before the end of July,” said Carty.
Wayne Biggs, Jr., Chief Executive Officer of the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority, informed senators in his prepared statement that through its four main pillars: the Economic Development Bank, the Economic Development Commission, the Enterprise Zone Commission, and the Economic Development Park Corporation, the VIEDA has facilitated investment opportunities, thereby leading to job creation and retention, as well as assisted their clients with bringing their dreams of entrepreneurship and business growth to fruition.
Before concluding, Chairwoman Whitaker thanked her colleagues and the testifiers appearing virtually for their participation in the discussions.
Committee members in attendance were Senators: Genevieve R. Whitaker, Janelle K. Sarauw, Donna Frett-Gregory, Kenneth L. Gittens, Milton E. Potter, Kurt A. Vialet, and non-members Novelle E. Francis, Jr. and Steven D. Payne, Sr.