From Air Traffic Control to Food Stamps, Fed Shutdown Affects USVI

Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett speaks Tuesday at a news conference.
Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett speaks Tuesday at a news conference.

Park Service employees are already furloughed, the passport office is closed and if the federal shutdown continues to the end of the month or longer, food stamps and school lunches will be cut by 40 percent, Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) said at a news conference Tuesday.

Plaskett urged anyone directly If you are directly impacted by the shutdown to let her office know, through a survey starting Wednesday at

“Give us your thought, so we can speak for the people and what is happening to them; so I can have your stories to take back to Congress” and press the case that this needs to end, she said.

The National Park Service has furloughed all 58 employees. Of those, 13 are on St. Croix and the rest on St. Thomas and St. John, according to Plaskett.

The impacts are wide ranging. Air travel may be less secure, as hundreds of Transportation Security Administration officials have been called out of work for at least four major airports, Plaskett said.

“Mass callouts would inevitably mean air travel is less secure,” she said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials will soon stop being paid, “which is very important in the Virgin Islands as we work on our own recovery efforts,” she said.

FEMA twice extended the deadline for the roofing program in the territory and a lot of rain has caused a lot of contractors to be unable to meet the Jan. 31 deadline, after which FEMA will hot have funding.

“There is a lot of concern about FEMA from the contractors. FEMA not being here is “very problematic,” so she is speaking with FEMA Administrator Brock Long and newly installed Gov. Albert Bryan to try to manage the situation, Plaskett said.

Air traffic controllers and some other federal officials will continue to work, but without pay.

Many Coast Guard operations are being curtailed, impacting boater safety, drug and firearm interdiction, fishing regulation and other operations.

On the bright side, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will continue to be paid normally, although anyone not already signed up may have to wait to do so. And the Post Office will keep operating, she said.

Those seeking help in income tax filing will not be assisted. Federal tax refunds also have been frozen, and by the end of the month, no passports will be processed.

Farmers who have filed for USDA loans are at risk because their loans will not be processed.

“I am looking forward to a roundtable discussion of issues with the police department and prosecutors and our new Gov. Albert Bryan to roll up our sleeves and speak on social issues,” Plaskett said.

Regarding what the Democrats in Congress are doing to try to reopen the government, Plaskett said since taking over the House of Representatives on Jan. 3, they have passed “multiple, multiple” appropriations “but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to put the bills to the floor.”

Both of Maryland’s senators “have now threatened to block any Senate action unless McConnell agrees to at least put them to the floor for a vote,” she said.

Asked what concessions Democrats were willing to make, Plaskett said they have “already offered over a billion dollars for border security. Anything beyond that is really just for him to have campaign rhetoric.”

She also said Democrats are for border security but not for a wall, which she called a fifth century solution to a 21st century challenge and anyone with a ladder knows it won’t work.

While in favor of electronic surveillance and other modern methods, Plaskett said border crossings have actually been going down for many years, adding, “The last administration really cracked down on that.”

Cracking down is not the only solution, she said. Democrats support also working on “the things that would allow people not to feel threatened in their own countries, whether it is Nicaragua or Guatemala or El Salvador, that is causing them to come here. That means drugs, gang warfare, the turmoil that is causing so many to come here, those are the things we are willing to support,” she said.

Plaskett and other Democrats feel President Donald Trump’s obsession only with the Mexico border is unjustifiable and suspect, too.

“There are also issues with people who could potentially come through Canada. But we do not hear them discussing that at all. So our question is why is it only coming from the southern border? Is it because the people coming from the southern border are brown people? Are people of color? And that is problematic for us,” she said. “Also the terrorism we know comes primarily by air, not by sea or across land. So if terrorism is your concern, your priority should be airport security and not just building a wall.”

Democrats want to see action taken to protect Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, brought by their parents, she said.

“There are Dreamers here in the Virgin Islands that need a way out,” she said. Some of them came with their parents from other islands, whether Montserrat, St. Kitts, Haiti or elsewhere, and overstayed visas.

“One student at UVI who was a volleyball player, needed a passport to travel with the team. It was then they realized they were undocumented,” Plaskett said.

“We have a lot of those people that now have applied to be Dreamers. … Those are contributing Americans who do not know anywhere else and want a way out,” Plaskett said. Democrats made an offer trading help for Dreamers for wall funding last year but Trump rejected it, she said.

With the inactivity of the EPA, “our concern is for Limetree in their wait for biological studies for reopening and the delays in our economy. There are other businesses waiting on federal assistance and we are in day 18 of this shutdown,” Plaskett added.

For now, it is unclear when or how the shutdown will end.

Plaskett said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told members in a telephone conference that the talks are at an impasse. Vice President Mike Pence gave Democrats the impression there was some possibility for a compromise “but the president shot that down.” According to Pelosi, Pence gave the impression there was some possibility of a compromise but right after the meeting, Trump rejected the terms Pence offered with a tweet, “leading us to the conclusion the vice president does not speak for the president,” Plaskett said.

According to a statement from Plaskett’s office Tuesday, House Democrats will begin passing individual appropriations bills to re-open all government agencies including:

– Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service: to remove all doubt that hard-working Americans will receive their tax refunds in full and on time during the Trump Shutdown;

– Department of Agriculture: to prevent hungry families from losing the lifeline of food stamps and ensure that our farmers get the service and benefits they need;

– Department of Interior: to prevent the degradation of our national parks and monuments and allow EPA to resume its critical activities in protecting public health and the environment;

– Department of Housing and Urban Development: taking action to rescue the thousands of hard-working families who are at imminent risk of being evicted.

“These bills will then go to the Senate, where they passed last Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support,” Plaskett said in the statement.

“President Trump has the power to stop hurting the country by re-opening the government and ending the Trump Shutdown. President Trump needs to come to his senses and sign the legislation to re-open government as soon as the Senate passes this legislation,” she said.