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U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Alert for Hazardous School Supplies; USVI Remains Unaffected So Far

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As the back-to-school season is in full swing across the nation, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in alliance with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), has voiced concerns regarding perilous school supplies.

A consignment, with a declared value surpassing $54,000, was recently brought to a halt and seized by officials in San Juan. The reason? A breach of federal statutes related to dangerous substances.

The Consortium received a note from CBP, highlighting that the U.S. Virgin Islands have not reported any presence of such hazardous items. Jeffrey Quiñones, serving as the public affairs specialist for CBP Puerto Rico and the USVI, elaborated, “While these particular CPSC violations haven’t made their way to the USVI, we’ve come across infractions tied to items such as four tracks and bed mattresses.”

CBP officers, during their standard inspection routine, pinpointed that the consignment, marked as “School Supplies,” was missing the compulsory Consumer Product Safety Act Tracking labels. This discrepancy led to the intervention of a CPSC Inspector who corroborated the transgression.

Efrain Rivas, who occupies the role of assistant director of field operations for trade at the San Juan Field Office, weighed in on the matter. “As a new academic year is on the horizon, it’s pivotal for distributors, retailers, and consumers alike to be vigilant about the quality and safety standards of products imported into the U.S. and its associated territories,” he remarked. “Our joint operation between CBP and CPSC ensured these potentially risky supplies didn’t find their way into children’s hands.”

The Federal Hazardous Substances Act mandates that any household product identified as hazardous should come equipped with precautionary labels on its primary packaging. This measure seeks to enlighten consumers about the safe handling and storage, and in any unfortunate event of accidental exposure, to guide them for immediate remedial action. Additionally, the Act grants the CPSC the authority to ban products viewed as extremely hazardous or those lacking adequate safety labeling.

Accentuating the importance of overseeing imported goods, the CBP has flagged it as a Priority Trade Issue. The agency reaffirmed its unwavering commitment to halting the influx of unsafe items into the U.S. marketplace. There are ongoing collective efforts with governmental agencies, international counterparts, and the trade sector to bolster risk evaluations. With initiatives such as streamlined automation, open information sharing, and building alliances that adhere to industry standards, CBP is unwavering in its pursuit to shield the U.S. consumer.

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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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Over $10 Million Allocated to USVI through Community Projects by Delegate Plaskett

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In a significant advancement for the U.S. Virgin Islands, the recent approval of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2024 by the House of Representatives heralds a substantial financial boost for local initiatives, thanks to the efforts of Delegate Stacey Plaskett. Plaskett announced the inclusion of twelve Community Project Funding Requests from her office in the federal bill, highlighting her commitment to enhancing education, healthcare, community development, and economic opportunities for the territory’s vulnerable populations.

Upon the anticipated Senate approval and President Joe Biden’s signature, the legislation will channel more than $10 million into the Virgin Islands for various critical community projects. Beneficiaries include notable entities such as the St. Croix Foundation, My Brother’s Workshop, and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, each tasked with implementing projects that aim to foster community well-being and economic resilience.

Deanna James, Executive Director of the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development, praised the funding as a testament to the impact of civic-public partnerships in catalyzing significant social change in underserved areas. The Foundation is set to receive $1 million to rejuvenate affordable housing and commercial spaces in Christiansted, underscoring the initiative’s potential to transform local communities.

Similarly, St. Croix Farmers in Action will utilize their $1 million allocation to refurbish essential water infrastructure at the Bethlehem Sugar Factory site, enhancing agricultural resilience against drought conditions. Kareem Edwards, a board member, emphasized the project’s critical importance to St. Croix’s agricultural sector.

The funding extends to a diverse array of projects across the U.S. Virgin Islands:

  • Lord God of Sabaoth Evangelical Lutheran Church is allocated $1,666,279 to increase affordable housing and activate essential services for Christiansted’s disadvantaged populations.
  • My Brother’s Workshop receives $1,000,000 for constructing a facility that will bolster education and workforce development.
  • The Virgin Islands Architecture Center for Built Heritage and Crafts is awarded $850,000 to transform a historical site into an educational center for traditional building crafts.
  • Caribbean Centers for Boys & Girls of the Virgin Islands gets $1,000,000 for the rehabilitation of youth centers damaged by hurricanes.
  • The Department of Planning and Natural Resources is allocated $510,000 for renovations and solar lighting at the Gustave Quetel Fish Market.
  • World Ocean School will use $850,000 for the educational refurbishment of the Roseway, a National Historic Landmark.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers receives funding for projects improving navigation in Christiansted and Charlotte Amalie Harbors.
  • Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative is granted $438,000 to study and mitigate the impacts of sargassum on marine life.
  • An additional $963,000 goes to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources for addressing harmful sargassum algal blooms.

This allocation underscores a forward-thinking approach to enhancing the U.S. Virgin Islands’ resilience and sustainability, marking a pivotal moment for community development in the territory.

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