Working for Results: June Edition
A Message from the Senator
The past five months have been a busy time in the legislative halls and, with your support, much has been achieved! We listened to you as you stressed the importance of financial transparency and accountability, when you urged us to focus on the insolvency surrounding GERS and the untimely pay-out of tax refunds. These are all issues that have been impacting Virgin Islanders for many years. My office has begun to address these issues.
My office sponsored legislation, which has since passed, to launch a comprehensive government financial transparency website, to increase appropriations to GERS, and to petition the US Congress to provide subsidies to support earned income credits and child tax credits to encourage timely tax refunds. You spoke, we listened, and will continue to do so via the legislative process.
As Chair of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development, I will focus on the immediate concerns and critical needs of our educational system. My commitment as a legislator is to ensure that the oversight responsibility placed on me as Committee Chair is executed. My focus will be on student mental wellness, improving our career and technical education curricula and early childhood education in our schools. The next Committee on Education and Workforce Development hearing will be held on June 28th in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.
As a senator of the 33rd Legislature I remain engaged, finding solutions to address pressing issues impacting Virgin Islanders. Thank you for your continued support and prayers. I assure you that I will continue to listen and fight for you!
Sen. Frett-Gregory sponsored legislation that will increase fiscal accountability, improve the solvency of the GERS system, and seek relief for timely tax refunds. These bills were successfully passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. The Senator thanks her colleagues of the 33rd Legislature for their favorable support, as these are all critical issues. She remains committed to focusing on concerns that affect the lives of all Virgin Islanders.
See below for a summary of each bill:
Bill Number 33-0032: To require the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Finance, and the Bureau of Information and Technology to establish an official internet website by June 1, 2020, which would provide the public with user-friendly access to financial information on all government agencies and instrumentalities under the judicial, executive and legislative branch. The bill will also exclude employee names associated with salaries in favor of a substitute (e.g. position title or a unique identifier). This will give all Virgin Islanders insight into the government's finances at any given time.
Bill Number 33-0014: To increase the annual appropriation from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) from $7,000,000 to $10,000,000 and to allocate 40 percent of the appropriation to pay outstanding employer contributions and 60 percent as a direct contribution. This bill provides GERS with more funds to not only invest in the long-term, but to pay out outstanding money to retirees in the short-term.
Bill Number 33-0013: A resolution to petition the United States Congress to provide subsidies to the U.S. Virgin Islands that will assist in the payment and reimbursement of earned income credit and child tax credits, and that will assist in paying the unfunded amount that the Government of the Virgin Islands is unable to reimburse its residents. Virgin Islanders will then be able to receive their income tax refunds on time and in full.
Committee on Finance
Sen. Frett-Gregory held five (5) Finance Committee meetings since taking the oath of office. The first Finance Committee meeting was held with the Government’s financial team to provide testimony on the financial status of the territory. Since then, subsequent Finance Committee meetings were held to consider legislation, vet leases and gain valuable insight into various financial challenges that the government faces.
To date, the committee has heard eight (8) bills—four (4) of which were favorably moved to the Committee on Rules for further consideration, and four (4) of which were held in the Finance Committee for further vetting. The committee also heard and considered four (4) lease agreements, all of which were favorably voted on, and forwarded to the Full Body for further consideration.
Sen. Frett-Gregory felt it was critical to invite the territory’s disaster recovery leaders and contractors to testify before the Finance Committee. Two oversight meetings with local disaster officials were held on March 19th and April 2nd to address the non-payment of contractors and subcontractors. AECOM was subpoenaed to attend the April 2nd hearing after their leadership team failed to attend in-person on March 19th.
“Our local contractors labor on construction sites to make sure that our territory is rebuilt. It is unacceptable that we cannot pay them on time,” said Sen. Frett-Gregory.
Testimony was heard from representatives of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority, VITEMA, The Office of Disaster Recovery, Witt O’Brien, APTIM, and AECOM. These meetings provided the community and the Senate with a better understanding of the financial challenges that exist in the disaster recovery process.
A few weeks after the disaster recovery committee meeting, Sen. Frett-Gregory visited FEMA officials in Washington, DC, alongside Governor Bryan, to find ways to expedite the release of funds for local contractors. FEMA is committed to expediting the payment process and is currently preparing to increase its presence in the territory. This commitment should help local contractors get paid in a timely fashion.
Meetings with Territorial Leaders
Seeking answers to questions raised by VI residents, the Senator makes it a priority to meet with leaders across the territory to better understand pressing community concerns. Earlier this year, Sen. Frett-Gregory met with the Department of Planning & Natural Resources (DPNR) Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol about the status of the territory’s historic buildings and the inconvenience of library hours. She has met with representatives of the Department of Education, the Board of Education and UVI subject matter experts to ensure that public K4-3rd grade educators receive proper training to teach early childhood education and she recently spoke with representatives from the VI Next Generation Network about expanding fiber optic capabilities in the territory. Sen. Frett-Gregory has also met with the Historic Preservation Committee to discuss ways to preserve VI history and to promote cultural awareness. Recently, because education is a driving force for her team, Sen. Frett-Gregory met with the Department of Labor about the development of a comprehensive career and technical education program in the public schools.
But she didn't stop there. Sen. Frett-Gregory has hosted meetings with leaders of Virgin Islands medical facilities and financial team leaders to identify revenue generating and cost saving measures that will allow the government to provide more efficient services to VI citizens. She has also met with representatives from the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council (DVSAC), the Family Resource Center, the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, and the Virgin Islands Police Department to address rape culture, revenge porn and other domestic violence and sexual assault issues that have impacted the VI community. The senator meets regularly with local radio hosts to provide the public with timely updates on her progress and insight into legislation.
Out in the Community
The Senator and her team consistently participate in community outreach activities and value this participation as a means of remaining connected to the people.
On March 21st and April 23rd the Senator was invited to speak at St. Thomas Rotary and Rotary Sunrise, respectively, and on April 23rd was honored to address UVI employees at their annual Employee Service Awards event.
In support of women’s history in the month of March, Sen. Frett-Gregory held a women’s round table on March 29th to empower high school girls. The panel included women who hold key positions in politics, the public and private sectors. Attendees were very encouraged and the students left the event with a new level of optimism about their future.
Later that day, the Senator was one of five female leaders in the territory honored by the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands at its Seat at the Table event.
In March, Sen. Frett-Gregory participated in the REVITILIZE NOW Enterprise Zone Initiative, which supported the cleanup of the Savan and Garden Street communities.
Later that month, the Senator spoke at the annual Transfer Day Commemoration held on the grounds of the Legislature.
Remaining connected to the community is vitally important to Sen. Frett-Gregory. She has made it her duty to be present at important community events that not only highlight new services and opportunities for Virgin Islanders, but also events that honor community members and celebrate cultural traditions.
Giving back to the community has always been a driving force in Sen. Frett-Gregory’s life. Growing up on St. Thomas, before being elected to the 33rd Legislature, the Senator was actively involved in community service projects. That legacy continues. She is a proud Virgin Islander who strives to improve the quality of life for all territorial residents who share a love of these islands.
Senator Frett-Gregory makes it a priority to listen to Virgin Islanders, whether it be students from the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School or through a series of town hall meetings titled “Taking it Back to the Neighborhood.”