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Enhanced Support Measures Announced for SBA’s Disaster Loan Program

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In an endeavor to better aid small businesses and disaster survivors, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has revealed sweeping changes to its disaster lending scheme. As of July 31, 2023, these modifications will be applicable to every federally declared disaster, focusing on providing more adaptable and cost-effective loans.

Isabella Casillas Guzman, the SBA Administrator, emphasized the institution’s determination to allocate maximum resources towards communities grappling with the escalating frequency of natural disasters, a consequence of climate change. Guzman mentioned, “By introducing these adjustments, we’re hoping to bolster recovery efforts of nonprofits, small businesses, homeowners, and renters, enabling their communities to regain their strength and vitality.”

Highlighting the transformative nature of the updates, Bailey DeVries, who serves dual roles as the associate administrator for both investment and innovation and capital access, mentioned that such alterations hadn’t been seen in close to thirty years. DeVries added, “By raising the limits of home disaster loans substantially, we aim to ensure communities possess ample funds to reconstruct and bounce back.”

Adding to this sentiment, Francisco Sánchez Jr., from SBA’s Office of Disaster Recovery and Resilience, expressed that these reforms are part of a broader strategy to revamp the SBA’s approach to disaster preparedness and response. This strategy seeks to invest more capital in rebuilding communities and amplifying resilience against impending calamities.

Noteworthy Amendments Comprise:

  • Elevated Loan Ceilings: Home disaster loans, earmarked for primary residences, have seen an increase, now capped at $500,000 from a previous $200,000. Meanwhile, personal property loan maximums have also witnessed a jump from $40,000 to a substantial $100,000.
  • Landscape Limit Abolished: The pre-existing $5,000 restriction on landscaping expenditures has been removed, now constrained only by the comprehensive real estate repair budget.
  • Lengthened Payment Grace Period: A shift from a 5-month to a 12-month initial payment deferment period for all disaster loans offers victims a longer cushion before commencing repayments.
  • Interest Reliefs: The first year’s interest from the primary disbursement date for all disaster loans will be nullified. This amendment assures that the payment hiatus provides tangible financial alleviation.
  • Augmented Mitigation Loans: Property proprietors can now utilize disaster loan capital to safeguard against a wider array of disasters, thanks to eased restrictions.
  • Collateral Stipulations: The SBA has chosen to forgo blanket liens on business commodities that don’t yield liquidity during potential defaults.
  • Streamlined Reconsideration Documentation: Enterprises are no longer mandated to furnish financial statements during every reconsideration or appeal for previously rejected submissions.
  • Broadened Eligibility: Now, consumer or marketing cooperatives can qualify for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (MREIDL) schemes.

Guzman had previously, in 2022, opted to nullify the interest for the inaugural year and inherently prolong the primary payment deferment span to 12 months for disasters proclaimed between September 21, 2022, and September 30, 2023. These revisions are here to stay, extending their influence on all subsequent disaster loans post-September 30, 2023.

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Challenges for U.S. Virgin Islands’ Legislative Priorities Amid Washington Gridlock

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David Schnittger of Squire Patton Boggs outlined the significant hurdles they faced last year in progressing the U.S. Virgin Islands’ policy objectives within a highly partisan environment in Washington. During a recent meeting with the V.I. Public Finance Authority Board, Schnittger explained, “Our efforts in 2023 were dedicated to navigating through the legislative gridlock to advance the agenda of the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

A primary focus for Schnittger’s team was advocating for the permanent extension of rum cover-over rates. He described this effort as a vivid example of the broader congressional stagnation affecting the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. “The 118th Congress has found it challenging to pass legislation across the board, leaving critical initiatives like the rum cover-over extension stalled,” he remarked.

In response to the legislative standstill, Governor Albert Bryan Jr.’s Washington representative, Terry Helenese, has established a weekly working group addressing the cover-over issue. This group includes key stakeholders from both the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, as well as industry representatives.

Beyond legislative advocacy, Squire Patton Boggs has successfully promoted the territory’s policy goals on sustainable energy and economic development by collaborating with federal entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.

Concurrently, the law firm Winston & Strawn is striving to overcome congressional obstacles by working with V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett. Their goal is to secure earmarks in forthcoming appropriations bills that would fund necessary studies by the Army Corps of Engineers for the dredging of the Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted harbors, a step essential for their re-federalization and subsequent maintenance by the USACE.

Moreover, Winston & Strawn is actively pursuing equitable solutions for the residents of the Virgin Islands, focusing on issues like the unavailability of Supplemental Security Income and the rigid funding cap on Medicaid. “Advocating for fair medical treatment remains a cornerstone of our efforts,” stated Winston & Strawn partner Bryant Gardner.

Despite these extensive efforts by the territory’s representatives in Washington, the members of the PFA board were informed that achieving several key policy goals for the Virgin Islands still hinges on breaking through the ongoing legislative deadlock.

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$12.5 Million Federal Grant Boosts Climate Resilience at Cyril E. King Airport in the USVI

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The Cyril E. King International Airport in St. Thomas has been earmarked for significant infrastructure upgrades, thanks to a generous $12.5 million grant from the Biden administration. This financial boost is directed at augmenting the airport’s resilience in the face of the escalating threats posed by climate change.

Announced on Thursday, this grant is a segment of a broader federal initiative distributing nearly $830 million across 80 projects nationwide. These projects are strategically chosen to reinforce the transportation infrastructure against the adverse effects of extreme weather conditions, including but not limited to flooding, sea-level rise, and heatwaves, which are becoming more frequent and severe due to the climate crisis.

This initiative springs from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, utilizing funds allocated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law under the PROTECT Discretionary Grant Program.

Secretary Pete Buttigieg, along with FHWA Administrator Shailen Bhatt, emphasized the critical nature of these investments. The duo pointed out the growing threats that climate change poses to the nation’s transportation networks. “America’s transportation infrastructure is increasingly compromised by extreme weather events, ranging from wildfires in California that disrupt freight rail lines to flooding subways in New York. These events not only impede mobility but also threaten economic stability by disrupting supply chains,” Buttigieg remarked.

The project earmarked for the Virgin Islands will concentrate on restoring around 460 feet of shoreline at the airport. This initiative aims to curb flooding and combat shoreline erosion, ensuring the continued operation of both the airport and the adjacent petroleum facility that serves as a vital aviation fuel source during emergencies.

This funding initiative is part of the Biden Administration’s extensive efforts to bolster climate resilience. Over $50 billion has been earmarked for various climate resilience and adaptation projects through legislative measures, showcasing a committed stride towards protecting the nation’s infrastructure from climate-induced challenges and ensuring uninterrupted economic growth.

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Delegate Plaskett Applauds Congressional Approval of Funding Bill, Highlighting Benefits for U.S. Virgin Islands

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Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett has lauded the enactment of the Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bill, marking a significant milestone with its presidential endorsement. This legislative achievement promises substantial benefits for the U.S. Virgin Islands through a comprehensive funding initiative celebrated for its cross-party backing in both Congressional chambers.

Characterized by its extensive support for economic growth, public safety enhancements, and family assistance nationwide—and by extension, in the Virgin Islands—the bill embodies a commitment to vital societal sectors. According to Congresswoman Plaskett, the legislation channels funds into pivotal areas such as educational initiatives, job training, and accessible, high-quality childcare. “This funding package champions essential services and programs that underpin education, workforce development, and childcare affordability,” Plaskett remarked.

The bill earmarks significant funding across various domains: $1.1 billion is allocated to the Small Business Administration to aid underserved business owners, $20.3 billion is designated for comprehensive disaster recovery efforts, and additional funds are directed towards combating the opioid crisis, specifically fentanyl. It also encompasses contributions towards Rural Health Programs, Career and Technical Education (CTE) State Grants, School-Based Mental Health Services, support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, among other initiatives.

Highlighting the bill’s transformative investments, Ms. Plaskett pointed out the strategic funding for education, healthcare, and climate change mitigation efforts that are critical to the Virgin Islands’ prosperity. “The legislative package makes unprecedented allocations towards Head Start, childcare, educational enrichment, workforce training, and placement programs,” she detailed. The bill also fortifies national defense, underscores the U.S.’s dedication to climate change countermeasures and global health improvement, and boosts funding for border security and cyber-defense.

Congresswoman Plaskett views the bill’s passage as a triumph for House Democrats, who she notes, “successfully protected community investments while countering several detrimental proposals by House Republicans, such as cuts to education and climate change initiatives.”

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