Jean-Pierre Oriol, commissioner, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, told members of the Committee on Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure that paying federal stimulus funds to the commercial, recreational, charter-for-hire, and fishery-related businesses has run into eligibility problems.
To qualify for the funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, applicants must demonstrate a minimum 35 percent loss of revenue between March 2020 and December 2020. Oriol said the principal way the federal government wanted that loss documented was with filed income tax documents, and many fishermen did not file income tax returns.
Senators questioned whether the program had been marketed enough so all those who potentially were eligible could apply. Oriol said it had. He said DPNR has partnered with the Economic Development Authority to administer the program. The media campaign providing information on the program began in early May and there have been webinars as well as in-person information sessions over the last two weeks. Acceptance of applications started May 29 and is scheduled to remain open until June 18. He added that if the federal government could be convinced to accept different documentation, the application period might be extended.
When questioned whether some of the $4 million grant money went back to the federal government, he said yes.
A second program that Oriol outlined at the Friday hearing – Fisheries Relief Disaster Recovery Program – has fared better. The program, according to Oriol, was launched in June 2020, and the department has processed 438 applications and disbursed over $6 million. This program covers losses to the fishing industry because of the hurricanes.
The department has also used disaster recovery funds of $145,683 to buy vessel emergency kits for all commercial fishers affected by the hurricanes and disbursed these kits in May. He added that kits not yet claimed will be made available during fisher registration week next week.
Oriol reported that stimulus funds for the V.I. Council of The Arts Cares Act Stimulus Program – have also been successfully disbursed.
VICA applied for and received $411,900 from the National Endowment of the Arts to provide stimulus funds to artists throughout the territory. The program was run in two phases and provided a maximum of $50,400 to individuals and $361,900 to arts organizations. All $411,900 has been disbursed to the artists in the territory.
Oriol also updated the committee on the Historic Recovery Program. The program was launched in November 2020, and the eligibility phase ended at the end of March last year. DPNR received 223 applications, and 105 were deemed ineligible. According to Oriol, DPNR currently has $1.5 million in projects awaiting review by the National Park Service and will have an additional $1 million in projects for review by the end of June. The NPS anticipates conducting site visits by the end of this month, allowing DPNR to execute sub-grant awards and provide funding in July.
One of the projects being reviewed by the NPS is the renovation of the old naval barracks in Sub Base, which will serve as the future home of DPNR.
The committee was chaired by Sen. Janelle Sarauw. Attending were Sens. Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Franklin Johnson, Carla Joseph, and Genevieve Whitaker.