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3.2% Rise in Social Security Benefits Announced for 2024

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Beginning January 2024, a 3.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will be implemented, positively impacting millions of Americans reliant on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

This adjustment translates to an average increment of over $50 per month for Social Security beneficiaries, starting January 2024, while approximately 7.5 million SSI recipients will see this change effective December 29, 2023. “This adjustment is poised to assist millions in managing their expenses,” stated Kilolo Kijakazi, the acting commissioner of Social Security.

Concurrent with the benefits increment, there’s an elevation in the earnings cap as well. Earnings up to $168,600 will now be liable to the Social Security tax, a notable rise from the prior cap of $160,200.

Starting early December, beneficiaries will begin receiving mail notifications delineating their new benefit amounts. However, those who have an account on ‘my Social Security’ platform can access their COLA notice online—a method endorsed by Social Security officials for its security, convenience, and expedience compared to traditional mail.

For online access to the COLA notice, it’s requisite to have a ‘my Social Security’ account by November 14, as per the official disclosure. Additionally, it was disclosed that information regarding Medicare alterations for 2024 will be accessible at www.medicare.gov.

For those beneficiaries of Social Security enrolled in Medicare, their updated 2024 benefit information will be available in December, either through the mailed COLA notice or the ‘my Social Security’s’ Message Center.

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USVI Community Pulse

Service Disruption Affects Virgin Islands Department of Finance Vendor Portal

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The Virgin Islands Department of Finance (DOF) is currently facing a technical setback as its vendor portal remains inaccessible due to a service disruption. Users attempting to access the portal are met with a “Service Unavailable” message, specifically noting an “HTTP Error 503.”

The vendor portal, a critical component for facilitating transactions and communications between the DOF and its vendors, is essential for the seamless operation of financial services within the territory. This outage affects various stakeholders, including local businesses and contractors who rely on the portal for processing payments and managing financial interactions with the government.

For more detailed information and updates, please visit the DOF’s official website at http://dof.vi.gov.

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USVI Community Pulse

Virgin Islands Children’s Museum Launches Innovative LEGO Education Workshops

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Beginning on Easter Sunday, the Virgin Islands Children’s Museum (VICM) in St. Thomas will offer a unique educational opportunity for children aged eight to thirteen. The museum has scheduled a five-week LEGO workshop series, taking place every Sunday from 12 to 2 PM. This initiative encourages early registration due to limited availability.

The workshops, structured around LEGO Education Kits, are designed to enhance critical thinking and collaborative skills among participants. Through hands-on activities, children will explore concepts in engineering, data analysis, and communication. The LEGO kits incorporate elements of STEAM—science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics—connecting classroom learning to practical, real-world problems. This method allows children to progress at their own pace through various lessons.

LEGO’s journey over the past decade has been remarkable, rebounding from financial difficulties by capitalizing on core strengths and broadening its appeal. In an era dominated by digital gaming, LEGO has successfully integrated virtual elements into its products while maintaining the tactile, hands-on experience that fosters creativity and problem-solving skills. The origins of LEGO trace back to 1932, founded by Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, echoing the enduring craftsmanship synonymous with Denmark, which is evident in many historical structures throughout the Virgin Islands.

Chantel Hoheb, the Executive Director of Operations and Development at VICM, emphasizes the transformative potential of these workshops. By providing access to costly LEGO kits and expert guidance, the museum offers children educational opportunities that might be unavailable in traditional school settings. Hoheb also highlights the importance of parental involvement in fostering and supporting their children’s interests, which is crucial for the development of local robotics programs and the advancement of students to competition levels.

The workshops will be conducted by Christopher Richardson and Peter Jean-Baptiste, two talented Virgin Islanders skilled in programming and technology, who have played a significant role in the creation of the LEGO workshops. Richardson, who previously competed in the FIRST Tech Robotics competitions in Atlanta, appreciates the chance to introduce local youth to engineering principles through LEGO kits.

The announcement of the workshop has sparked interest for similar programs catering to different age groups. The VICM plans to develop additional workshops, acknowledging the benefits of early exposure to engineering concepts. Meanwhile, the museum ensures an inclusive environment where prior experience with LEGO or coding is not required, welcoming students of all skill levels.

Thanks to substantial support from donors and collaborative efforts with local institutions like the University of the Virgin Islands, the museum has secured essential resources, keeping participation costs low and fostering a supportive community for the burgeoning student Robotics clubs.

For registration and further details, visit the VICM’s website at www.vichildrensmuseum.org or contact them at [email protected]. Follow their social media platforms on Facebook and Instagram @vichildrensmuseum for updates and more information. The Virgin Islands Children’s Museum, a non-profit organization, continues to dedicate its efforts to create an engaging learning environment that cultivates a passion for knowledge through interactive play.

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Virgin Islands Community Acknowledged for Participation in Tsunami Preparedness Drill, Caribe Wave 2024

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The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) has expressed its gratitude to the community for their active participation in the territory-wide tsunami drill, Caribe Wave, which occurred on Thursday, March 21, 2024. This exercise is part of the annual tsunami preparedness activities coordinated by the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami and Other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions (ICG/CARIBE-EWS) under UNESCO’s Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

This year’s drill involved over 23,000 individuals who practiced the “drop, cover, and hold on” maneuvers and participated in evacuation procedures starting at 11:00am. The exercise included a simulation where test alerts were sent out, marking the beginning of a four-hour period during which VITEMA activated its Emergency Operation Centers (EOC) on St. Croix and St. John. The scenario was designed to reflect the aftermath of significant damage to the St. Thomas EOC caused by a tsunami wave.

Bruce Kelly, VITEMA’s Deputy Director for Operations, highlighted the collaborative effort, noting that “at least a dozen different agencies and departments were involved, which helped us to engage in a comprehensive evaluation of our territorial emergency operations plan despite potential major damages.”

The drill was a response to the historical precedence of a tsunami in 1867, with oceanographic experts warning of the inevitability of another such event. Regina Browne, VITEMA’s Deputy Director of Planning and Preparedness, stressed the importance of regular practice and awareness. “Preparedness is crucial,” she remarked. “It’s essential for every resident to know their evacuation zone and have a plan in place. Our division remains committed to providing education and outreach to ensure that everyone knows how to respond when a tsunami warning is issued.”

The agency also acknowledged the support of numerous local agencies and organizations, including FEMA, VI Fire and Emergency Medical Services, the Department of Human Services, and many others. Additionally, contributions from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu and the Puerto Rico Seismic Network were pivotal in providing realistic warning scenarios based on a simulated 8.7 magnitude earthquake from the Puerto Rico trench.

Plans for the 2025 Caribe Wave exercise are underway, with the specific dates to be announced later in the year. VITEMA continues to encourage the community’s involvement in these critical preparedness exercises, emphasizing the importance of readiness and effective response to natural disasters.

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