Washington Waves
Washington Waves

$2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill Goes To House

Washington, D.C.—The Senate unanimously approved a historic $2 trillion emergency relief package to rescue  American businesses, workers and families impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic as well as provisions  important to the waterways industry.

Counted as the third but perhaps not the final coronavirus relief bill, H.R. 748 now goes to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hoped to win final congressional approval quickly either by unanimous consent or a voice vote and send it on to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

“Without delay, I will sign it immediately,” Trump said, encouraging the House to follow the Senate’s lead in passing the bill.

A product of intense negotiations over several days, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes provisions to:

  • unlock money already paid into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and allow those funds to be used to maintain ports, a Senate aide said, without competing with other priorities;
  • provide an additional $70 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with $50 million going to Corps districts to support emergency operations centers and ensure continuous operations of projects  related to coronavirus prevention, preparation and response and $20 million to support remote access, teleworking and related activities; and
  • provide another $141 million for Coast Guard Reserve deployments to support port security requirements and other activities related to aid response efforts.

Also included in the sweeping legislation were provisions to provide direct payments of $1,200 to individuals and $2,400 to married couples, extend jobless benefits and expand them to independent contractors and gig workers,  provide federally guaranteed loans to small businesses that maintain their payroll and offer loans to stabilize national industries.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the administration’s lead negotiator on the package, said the significant amount of money in the package could “cover the economy” for three months.

“Hopefully we won’t need this for three months,” Mnuchin said.

In encouraging her fellow Democrats to focus on what is in the bill instead of what is not in it, Pelosi assured them they would have opportunities to include more of their priorities in the upcoming fourth bill.

“On Friday, the House will take up the legislation with strong bipartisan support,” she said after the Senate vote.

Reopening Timetable

President Trump continues to emphasize he wants the country reopened with its workers back on the job in weeks, not months.

At times he has cited Easter as part of that timeline and left open the possibility that such a decision could be different for various regions of the country.

“There’s big sections of our country that are very, you know, little affected by what’s taking place,” the president said.

“Then there are other sections that are very heavily affected, so there’s a big difference.”

At that same press briefing, Trump also cited the major disaster declarations he has approved for New York, California, Washington, Iowa, Louisiana, Texas and Florida.

He also spoke of his use of the Defense Production Act to have major corporations switch production to produce products that can be used in the war against the coronavirus.

“I would say by Easter we’ll have a recommendation, and maybe before Easter,” Trump said.

Cybersecurity Resources

The Coast Guard announced availability of Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 01–20 clarifying Maritime Transportation Security Act requirements related to computer system and network vulnerabilities of regulated facilities.

According to the Coast Guard, cyber security is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges for the maritime industry, and there are many resources, technical standards  and recommended practices available that can help with identifying vulnerabilities to computer systems and networks and incorporating those vulnerabilities into a Facility Security Plan.

However, the Coast Guard said recent experience suggests the maritime industry may not even be aware of the resources.

For additional information on the circular entitled Guidelines for Addressing Cyber Risks at Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) Regulated Facilities, contact Cmdr. Brandon Link at 202-372-1107.

FMC Operations

Responding to COVID-19 concerns, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) announced temporary adjustments in its operations and explained later its authorities and services remain in place during the ongoing pandemic.

“The FMC remains committed to fulfilling its statutory and constructive role for the U.S. economy in facilitating freight mobility in the international ocean supply chain,” the agency stated.

In its March 19 press release, the FMC said its temporary adjustments included holding meetings and other public-facing activities via telephone, email and other platforms that allow for reduced in-person contact.

“Regulated entities remain obligated to comply with all filing requirements and deadlines,” the FMC stated.

The agency directed documents to be emailed and payments to be sent using its online payment portal: https://www2.fmc.gov/payments/Fees.aspx.

In a March 25 press release, the FMC stated: “Those who wish to communicate a complaint, seek ombuds services, or share their views with the commission may do so by contacting the agency via complaints@fmc.gov.”

The agency also noted imbalances in empty and loaded container movements in major trade lanes, adding it has communicated with stakeholders in the ocean supply chain to assess the service disruption linked to logistics issues in China.

“As ocean commerce resumes, the Commission will continue its assessment of challenges impeding cargo delivery,” the press release stated.

Seaway Fees

The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC) is revising its regulations to reflect the fees levied on commercial vessels by the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) in Canada beginning in the 2020 navigation season.

The SLSDC is amending the ‘‘Schedule of Tolls” in Canada to increase the minimum charge per vessel per lock for full or partial transit of the seaway from $28.57 to $29.14.

“This increase is due to higher operating costs at the locks,” the Federal Register notice stated.

The change took effect March 20.

In other action, the SLSDC, under an agreement with the SLSMC, is updating the “Interpretations and Conditions of Vessels” regulation to clarify existing requirements.

March 31 is the effective date for the update.

For additional information on both actions, contact Carrie Mann Lavigne at 315-764-3200.