Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) held an emergency press conference Oct. 12 to demand the U.S. Congress establish funding protocols and priorities for the U.S. Virgin Island territories, St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), joined by Reps. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), CBC chair; Maxine Waters (D-Calif.); Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.); and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) urged the post-hurricane rebuilding and recovery efforts be increased significantly.
Hurricane Irma plowed through the Virgin Islands on Sept. 6 as a Category 5 hurricane, then a few weeks later Hurricane Maria, another Category 5 hurricane hit the islands on Sept. 19. The result has left the islands without electricity, clean water or cell reception. Several roads are blocked and multiple buildings have been destroyed.
“It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress to provide for the territories. We’re not looking for handouts, we’re looking for our fair share,” Plaskett told the audience of reporters gathered for the conference. “We, as members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are demanding that Congress remember the Virgin Islands. Remember, there are American citizens on this island who need their support not for something they have done, but something Mother Nature has done; that has caused them to be in a position where they need the support that Congress is constitutionally obligated to provide them.”
Plaskett said that while many Virgin Islands residents expressed gratitude that they still had their lives, if not their homes, they also felt abandoned by their fellow countrymen, many of whom seemed clueless about their status as Americans. “I spoke with an older gentleman, who was a little upset and angry, who told me ‘I have family in the states watching the news and they don’t see us on the news. They don’t see Congress mentioning our names or what happened here.’ He pointed to his hat, an American Legion hat, with Vietnam veteran on it. He said ‘I am an American. I fought for this country, I think they forgotten us, what we’ve done for this country,’” Plaskett said.
Several weeks after the U.S. Virgin Islands was hit by a history-making storm, the necessary food and repair services, including those required to restore electricity, are being held up by political wrangling, said the CBC.
“We know that the federal government must serve as a critical and ongoing support to the people of the Virgin Islands. This is an imperative; they must respond,” Clark said. “We are pleased that our colleagues in Congress have appropriated $36.5 billion for emergency disaster relief, flood insurance assistance, and to replenish fed[eral] firefighting accounts; however, we are still concerned with the lack of focus of resource to the U.S. Virgin Islands – and let’s be clear this is a tri-island territory – three separate islands that require our immediate attention. The pace in the federal response has been frankly too slow.”
Richmond, who said the inaction of the federal government in response to the U.S. Virgin Islands mimicked that following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of his district in Louisiana, noted that while difficulties present themselves in providing aid at the onset of a natural disaster, the response days and weeks later speak to poor management.
“No American citizen should be asked to wait and endure these conditions with the level of resources we all know our federal government is capable of providing,” said Richmond, who recommended all cruise ships in the area be called into service as temporary housing and medical units. “This is a clarion call for all of us to rally around the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and all states decimated by these storms that have passed through.