Black Lawmakers Pushing for More Aid, Attention to be Given to U.S. Virgin Islands

Rep. Stacey Plaskett, a Democrat from the Virgin Islands, discusses the need for disaster aid during a news conference of the Congressional Black Caucus in the Capitol on Oct. 12, 2017
(Photo: Deborah Barfield Berry/USA TODAY)

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are pushing for a trip to the Virgin Islands to assess the damage there and draw attention to the plight of residents still struggling in the wake of two major hurricanes.

“We think it’s important for people not only who are on the ground to see the cavalry coming, but it’s important for us to go down and independently assess the needs of the people,’’ Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the caucus, said Thursday before a House vote on a disaster aid bill.

The House approved a $36.5 billion disaster aid package that includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week when it’s back in session.

Caucus members supported the bill.

But Stacey Plaskett, a Democrat who represents the Virgin Islands and a caucus member, called the aid package “inadequate for the needs of the Virgin Islands, and I believe, inadequate for the needs of Puerto Rico and so many other areas.’’

“There is massive devastation that the people of the Virgin Islands are experiencing right now, support that is not being given to them, attention that they are not receiving that they should be receiving,’’ Plaskett said Wednesday before the House vote.

The Virgin Islands, which about 76% black, was hard hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Plaskett described dire conditions, including struggling hospitals, schools closures and a shortage of power and essential supplies. She said the federal government needs to do more to help.

“It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress to provide for the territories,’’ she said. “This is the time for Congress to do the right thing, to support the territories in an adequate fashion so that we can turn disaster into resilience, so that we can be a better island … We’re not looking for handouts, we’re looking for our fair share.’’

Plaskett said the region will need much more than the $5 billion Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp has requested.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Deborah Barfield Berry