House Passes Spending Bills With V.I. Medicaid Money

U.S. Capitol. (NBC News image)
U.S. Capitol. (NBC News image)

Major Medicaid funding for the U.S. Virgin Islands appears safe now because the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Fiscal Year 2020 federal government funding bills with the money, the Senate is expected to pass it and President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign it.

“I am happy to announce that Congress was able to come together, negotiate our differences, and reach a bipartisan agreement that makes investments to strengthen the Virgin Islands and give every American a better chance at a better life,” Delegate Stacey Plaskett said in a statement Tuesday. “I am particularly proud that we have fully funded a fair and accurate 2020 Census, and for the first time in more than 20 years, appropriated funding – $25 million – to research gun violence.”

Plaskett said the agreement comes after months of discussion between her office and House and Senate Members on the need to resolve the territory’s “Medicaid Cliff by the end of the year, including increased funding for the territories and a greater percentage of funding from the federal government.

At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, impacting not just hospitals and health care providers but the entire V.I. economy and 15,000 of the 29,000 Virgin Islanders who rely upon Medicaid for health care. Funding has increased dramatically in recent years but would have been cut back had Congress not passed several short extensions.

Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett
Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett

Plaskett said specific Medicaid language negotiated by her office was in the legislation, including:

– $252 million in additional Medicaid funding to the Virgin Islands over two fiscal years ($126 million in each of fiscal years 2020 and 2021);

– Increases in the rate of federal matching funds for Medicaid in the Virgin Islands from 55 percent to 83 percent for the remainder of fiscal 2020 and all of fiscal year 2021. This is the highest rate available for any state and a major boon to the territory.

Plaskett said the following amendments she sponsored also were included in the final package:

– An amendment to prohibit the Department of Justice from using funds to prevent the Virgin Islands from implementing its medical marijuana law.

– An amendment to provide $5 million in funding for micro-grants to improve the quality and quantity of locally grown food in U.S. territories.

– Amendments to make the Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories eligible for funding reserved for areas of persistent poverty. This includes funding reserved under programs for rural development loans and grants, economic development grants, and assistance funded by the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund.

– An amendment that repeals statutory caps on Federal Aid Highway Emergency Relief Program aid to U.S. territories.

The legislation “also includes historic investments in Head Start and child care programs, record funding for lifesaving medical research at the National Institutes of Health, and rejects the administrations misguided cuts to schools, health care, infrastructure, environmental protection and clean energy programs,” Plaskett said.