FEMA: V.I. Pleads for Waiver, Heyliger Named Regional Director

Jacqueline Heyliger
Jacqueline Heyliger

As Virgin Islander Jacqueline J. Heyliger assumes her position as the first V. I. Recovery Director for Federal Emergency Management Agency Caribbean Division, she will be receiving pressure from above and below.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long, her boss, says the territory has had enough time with 100 percent funding of hurricane recovery projects. Gov. Kenneth Mapp, Governor-elect Albert Bryan Jr. and Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett want more time.

Long announced on Dec. 5 his decision to discontinue a waiver allowing 100 percent funding for certain programs in the territory. On Dec. 20 FEMA announced its decision to appoint Heyliger to her position, which she has served in since the end of October.

On Dec. 27 Mapp requested an extension to the deadline for appealing the Dec. 5 decision. He wrote his request to Keith Turi, a FEMA assistant administrator, and said, “The basis of my request is that I will complete my term as governor on Jan. 7 at noon, and it only seems appropriate that Governor-elect Albert Bryan and his team … be given adequate time to understand the complexities of the FEMA declarations process, including cost share extensions and appeals.”

In a teleconference to reporters on Dec. 12, Bryan had raised concerns about recovery projects.

“I think it’s important to note that everybody is frustrated. I’ve been talking to contractors. We don’t have bids out to repair schools and other structures.” Bryan said.

Long’s decision not to extend 100 percent funding concerned the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power Program and FEMA’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assignments.

The deadline to appeal the decision is Jan. 4. If Mapp’s request is approved it would extend the deadline for an appeal until Feb. 19.

Plaskett, who is a Democrat like Bryan, has sent a letter to FEMA expressing disappointment in the decision to end the 100 percent funding.

“The federal government has underfunded the territories in numerous areas and placed arbitrary caps on its access to federal programs,” Plaskett wrote. “This waiver extension is greatly needed to keep the territory from spending tens of millions of dollars that it does not have and diverts funds that it desperately needs for other areas.”

Not continuing the waiver will cost the territory about $100 million, according to Plaskett. In January, Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Once the new majority takes office, the territories will once again have a vote on the floor, according to Plaskett, which she said will be helpful.

Congress gave initial approval for up to $296 million in disaster loans to the USVI to offset revenue losses related to the storms – $250 million for the operations of the central government and $46 million for the territory’s hospitals.

But FEMA initially held up that total, disbursing $85 million in loans as of February, with $65 million going for FY 2018 budget expenses and the rest to the territory’s hospitals. Then the government agreed to place the loans on the same senior lien level as its existing bond debt and secure them with government revenues. Since then the federal government has increased loan authorization to $309 million and disbursed more than $286 million, according to FEMA officials.

In her position Heyliger will oversee more than $8 billion in disaster recovery assistance throughout the region, according to a FEMA press release.

Heyliger and her office “will partner with the Government of the U. S. Virgin Islands and other federal agencies, private sector, non-profits and academic institutions to develop and implement a more economically-viable and sustainable resilient recovery,” the news release said.

Previously as FEMA chief of staff, Heyliger had duties concerning hurricanes Irma-Orlando; Harvey–Houston,; Sandy–New York; Nevada floods, South Carolina floods, and American Samoa–Cyclone Gita.

She joined the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency in 1998 and held various positions including assistant director, deputy director of operations, mitigation director and preparedness coordinator. She has also worked for the National Guard.

She was elected to the board of elections, is active with the Women’s Coalition, and serves on the AARP executive council.