Monday, May 4, 2009

Reflecting on the Meaning of Stimulus in a Time of Financial Crisis

The U.S. Virgin Islands is slated to receive $248 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 signed by U.S. President Barack Obama on February 17, 2009. Not only is this an unprecedented opportunity for the Virgin Islands government to balance its finances and weather the financial crisis, but it has the potential to modernize the the government through infrastructural improvements in technology and provide an impetus toward solving the WAPA crisis with energy efficiency programs and block grants.

Webster's Dictionary defines a stimulus as " something that rouses or incites to activity: as a: incentive b: stimulant."

For these monies to live up to its true intended purpose, it is highly important that while filling the widespread budget shortfalls throughout our government, these funds cannot just be treated as a short-term "band-aid". Because the funds will eventually run out one day, self-sustaining economic activity must be the outcome from the stimulus.

One method of self-sustaining economic activity lies in creating training opportunities for youth. On March 26, 2009, USVI Senator Wayne James said in a recent local television interview that there is a critical link between unemployment and criminal activity in young men between the ages of 15 and 35 and that providing jobs for this economically disadvantaged demographic in agriculture and construction would be a step in the right direction. In addition, not only would jobs be created, but our unskilled would be equipped with new skills and trades that would ensure a steady and stable source of income.

Not only do the stimulus monies have the opportunity to provide jobs, but it can also be used to develop energy-saving programs that could save Virgin Islanders hundreds of dollars annually. The $33,063,00 geared toward "Energy Projects and Programs" is one prime example - if finished as intended, it could help our employed residents hold on to more of their earnings without WAPA as a monthly burden.

While the prospect of these newly-obtained federal funds is promising, there is great concern throughout the community that not a penny will benefit everyday Virgin Islanders. The ongoing mishandling and misspending the people of the Virgin Islands goes back for years, with the recent revelation that Department of Education failed to spend $2.4 million in federal grant monies as a stark reminder that it continues to this day.

With the Virgin Islands track record of federal funds leaving much to be desired, it is imperative that our government officials recognize that every dollar spent must be accounted for. Due to advances in information technology, it is becoming increasingly easier for our finances to be audited even from the mainland. President Obama has pledged to bring public attention to any state or territory that misspends any ARRA funds. Given the sizable monies the territory is eligible for, the territory has an opportunity to put these federal funds to good use.

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