Murkowski Convenes Hearing Focused on COVID-19 Impacts on U.S. Territories

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing to examine the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. territories — American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“All of our states face challenges in fighting the spread and impact of COVID-19. The territories face additional hurdles, from limited capacity to handle a health pandemic to economies with fewer sources of revenue that are severely harmed by the economic shutdown, particularly those dependent upon tourism,” Murkowski said. “Although the territories have limited ports of entry for the virus to arrive at their islands, the reality is that the virus spread well before travel restrictions were in place, and once it is on an island it is difficult to contain.”

The hearing featured the five territorial members of the U.S. House of Representatives: Northern Mariana Islands Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, American Samoa Rep. Amata Coleman Radewagen, U.S. Virgin Islands Rep. Stacey Plaskett, Puerto Rico Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, and Guam Rep. Michael San Nicolas.

“In the Virgin Islands, tourist expenditures usually average about $1.2 billion per year as the territory brings in hundreds of thousands of air arrivals and cruise visitors,” Rep. Plaskett testified. “If the April to September 2020 cruise ship and air arrivals are 50 percent off from historical averages, the likely expenditures will be just $43.8 million. At the same time, the relaunch of one of the territory’s major non-tourism sector manufacturing businesses, the oil refinery on St. Croix, may be delayed by the drop in global oil prices and usage, depriving the local government of another expected source of significant revenues.”

During the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Murkowski asked the witnesses about the territories’ perception of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to help the cruise industry develop health and safety protocols.

“We need to have a uniform way to address this issue—not just where the passengers are coming from, but how we are going to comply with legal issues and at the same time how do you balance health and economy?” said Rep. Gonzalez-Colon. “We need to learn how to live with this. Because today it’s COVID-19 but maybe in several months, it’s going to be another virus.”

Murkowski is Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video of today’s hearing can be found on the committee’s website. Click here, here, and here to view Murkowski’s questions for the witnesses.

Related Issues: Energy