Washington, D.C.—Testifying before a key Senate committee, a top Arkansas port official credited $2.5 billion in capital investments and 5,000-plus jobs to one federal agency that Congress has not reauthorized since 2004.
Bryan Day, executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority, said the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) has provided $13 million to his port over the past 20 years.
Sharing several EDA success stories, Day specifically credited one $1.5-million grant in 2005 with helping to attract new industry to the inland river system.
He said one user of the warehouses the grant helped to build transports approximately 32,000 tons of wire rod from Japan annually.
“I can think of no better return on an investment than what we have accomplished with help from the EDA,” Day told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“I do hope the committee recommends the continuation of funding for this program.”
Other witnesses made similar pleas at the hearing, which focused on the EDA’s reauthorization.
“That’s too long for an agency with such an important mission to go without renewed authorization,” Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said, citing changes in the nation’s workforce and economy since 2004.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the panel’s ranking member, also spoke favorably of reauthorizing the EDA with “an appropriate balance.”
Described as the only federal agency charged with promoting economic development in American communities large and small, urban and rural, the EDA clearly enjoys bipartisan support.
Still, in some ways, it remains stalled in 2004.
Without updating via reauthorization, the EDA cannot make significant changes like the ones discussed by the committee’s witnesses.
Day’s recommendations included giving more flexibility to communities on using DEA funding and keeping the grant process simple with doable timelines and requirements.
Others recommended significantly reducing or even eliminating the grants’ required match, especially for small or underserved communities.
The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee voted 33 to 27 to approve subcommittee allocations for fiscal year 2024 over Democratic objections that regular order was not being followed.
“The allocations before us reflect the change members on my side of the aisle want to see by returning spending to responsible levels,” Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas) said.
Granger repeated her earlier statement that the recent bipartisan debt limit/budget agreement between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) “set a ceiling, not a floor” on spending.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the committee’s ranking member, said the Republicans were moving spending bills without a topline spending figure in place.
Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee was expected to act Thursday on its allocations for the 12 annual spending bills.
Those figures were expected to track figures in the Biden-McCarthy agreement.
West Coast Ports Labor Agreement
President Joe Biden congratulated both parties at West Coast ports for reaching a labor agreement ending a lengthy dispute.
“As I have always said, collective bargaining works,” Biden said.
He praised acting Labor Secretary Julie Su for keeping the parties talking during “long and sometimes acrimonious negotiation” and helping to assure supply chains remain strong for American businesses, farmers and working families.
“Above all I congratulate the port workers, who have served heroically through the pandemic and the countless challenges it brought and will finally get the pay, benefits and quality of life they deserve,” Biden said.
Subject to ratification by both parties, the six-year contract covering workers at all 29 West Coast ports was announced in a joint statement by Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
State Maritime Academy Incentive Expansion
The House gave final congressional approval to a bipartisan bill to expand the age eligibility for the Maritime Administration’s Student Incentive Payment Program for cadets who attended one of the six state maritime academies and commit to post-graduate service.
Approved by a voice vote, S. 467 is headed to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
The Changing Age-Determined Eligibility to Student Incentive Payments (CADETS) Act was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
Its expanded age eligibility includes any qualified student who will meet age requirements for enlistment in the U.S. Navy Reserve at the time of graduation.
Cadets can receive up to $32,000 in incentive funding to offset tuition, uniforms, books and living costs over four years in return for their commitment to serve.