EDUCATION SECRETARY DEVOS VISITS U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
Department of Human Services to apply to Food and Nutrition Service for extension
ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – Disaster recovery efforts continue apace as U.S. Virgin Islands leaders guided the U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos around schools on St. Thomas Wednesday.
Secretary DeVos visited Charlotte Amalie High School, where she met with the principal and staff before touring the University of the Virgin Islands campus. Secretary DeVos discussed with Governor Kenneth E. Mapp the priority needs of the educational sector, including support for the resilient reconstruction of schools.
Among the meetings between federal and USVI senior health officials, Commissioner of Health Dr. Michelle Davis met on Wednesday with Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald and Director of the Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support Dr. José Montero. Drs. Fitzgerald and Montero met with Department of Health staff, other CDC staff and volunteers, and toured the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged. The CDC officials promised to evaluate federal and private resources to support the public health needs of the Territory, including technical assistance, training, staff support and supplies.
Meanwhile, nutrition aid continues to flow into the Territory with the USVI Department of Human Services reporting 7,400 applications for the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) since the application process opened on Monday.
Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Human Services Evril Powell reported that 2,000 applications were submitted on Monday, 2,500 on Tuesday, and 2,900 on Wednesday. Commissioner Powell expressed hopes that the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture will approve an extension for the application period. With only a seven-day window for applications and the number of applications increasing daily, the Department is encouraging Virgin Islanders not to wait until the last minute to apply.
The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) continues to aim for power restoration to 90 percent of the Territory by Christmas. Governor Mapp thanked WAPA for increasing the crews working in Frederiksted: “My request of the Executive Director to double down on the number of crews is in fact taking place.”
The Governor announced that Henry E. Rohlsen Airport will no longer need to rely on generators as the radar tower on the western end of the island is now receiving power from the grid. Many neighborhoods have been re-energized, including the Fire Department on the north side.
Another 200 linemen will be in the Territory by the end of the week, bringing to 705 the number of additional workers helping to restore the power grid.
Federal Coordinating Officer of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region II William Vogel reported normal operations will continue at the Disaster Relief Centers (DRCs) on Friday, although it is a holiday. More than 14,000 people have been served at the DRCs across the Territory since they opened on October 8. More than 33,000 Virgin Islanders have registered for assistance.
FEMA has designated $83.7 million towards recovery operations. Of this amount, $33.7 million is in low interest loans from the Small Business Administration for families, homeowners and businesses. Other obligations include $41.6 million in public assistance funds and $8.4 million for temporary housing assistance.
Vogel reported that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has installed almost 3,000 blue roofs. FEMA continues to work with Virgin Islands partners to move forward with the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program; additional information may be forthcoming within the next week.
Governor Mapp urged residents not to turn away Blue Roof program contractors. The Department of Planning and Natural Resources is working with WAPA to allow homes with blue roofs to be energized, on the condition that a licensed electrician inspects the home and certifies that it is safe to do so. The deadline for applying to the Blue Roof program has been extended to November 23. Residents are encouraged to apply for the Blue Roof Program even if they are uncertain about qualifying. Being disqualified for the Blue Roof Program may provide an opportunity to qualify for other forms of support.
Debris clearance continues and approximately 175,000 cubic yards of have been cleared. Immediately following the storms, there was an estimated 1.1 million cubic yards of debris to be removed. The Air Curtain Incinerator Program should start by next week.
The Governor announced that the Community Disaster Loan for the U.S. Virgin Islands has been approved. There are a few more legal processes to complete before the funds can be accessed. The loan will initially support WAPA, Schneider Regional Medical Center, Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center and the cardiac care unit, and the central government.
Governor Mapp extended heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of retired Virgin Islands Police Department sergeant Claude Petersen whose funeral service was held earlier in the day in Frederiksted. The Governor described Petersen as an exemplary public servant and a great supporter and mentor of the Territory’s youth.
Virgin Islanders were encouraged to participate in Veterans Day parades, which will be held on St. Thomas and St. Croix. Friday is an official holiday for non-essential Government workers, except for those in the Department of Education. School will be in session on Friday.