August 04, 2021

Cardin Floor Statement on Infrastructure

Madam President, I rise in support of the legislation that is before us, the bipartisan infrastructure package. I applaud all those who worked so hard so that we could have this legislation before us. It is desperately needed. When we look at the status of our infrastructure today, the aged systems that we have across our nation, in Maryland we have some infrastructure that dates back over a century and a half ago. We need a generational investment to modernize our infrastructure, and the legislation before us does exactly that. It will make the United States more competitive and create a lot of good-paying jobs. It will deal with the growing backlog of infrastructure projects that we have in each one of our states. I applaud the work that brought us to this point.

I particularly am pleased that the legislation incorporates the work done by the environment and public works committee as it relates to transportation infrastructure and water infrastructure. I particularly want to acknowledge the leadership of our committee, Senator Carper and Capito. I was proud to be the chair of the subcommittee on infrastructure working with Senator Cramer and Senator Duckworth contributed greatly, particularly to the water infrastructure. I also want to applaud the leadership of President Biden, his leadership, who brought us to this moment. His vision for America’s future, what we need, and he found a way for us to move forward on modernizing infrastructure.

So let me first, if I might, talk a little bit about the transportation parts of this bill that I am particularly pleased about. Clearly we see a significant increase in our investments in roads, bridges, transit systems, rail, airports, ports, and waterways. We can talk about some of the specifics, and I’m going to do that. But first I want to applaud the efforts that we've made to move forward in new directions.

This bill for the first time in a major reauthorization of our surface transportation, acknowledges the realities of climate change. We know what is happening in our communities. The increase in the amount of flooding, droughts, wildfires and extreme weather events are frightening to all of us. In my state of Maryland, I can point to one community, Ellicott City, who has seen two 100-year floods in less than 24 months. The situation is dire, and we need to act on it. The legislation before us provides $18 billion in reducing carbon emissions and strengthening resilience and building electric charging stations and alternative fuel infrastructure. That is what we need to do, and I am pleased that the legislation addresses those issues.

In a second area, I was pleased that this bill has a significant increase in the transportation alternative programs that I authored. This increased funding will make it easier for our local governments to move forward on projects that are important to their priorities. We're talking about better sidewalks and bike paths and dealing with safety. We're seeing an alarming increase in fatalities on our highways and roads and community roads. The tap program will allow us to deal with those issues. We all need to be able to get around our community without using our cars, and the tap program makes this a priority so we can enjoy our communities and we have local decision-making in the use of our transportation funds.

I'm also very pleased that this legislation has a justice component to it. I worked long and hard with Senator Carper and others in dealing with reconnecting our communities that have been divided because of highways that have been put in the community that did not help that community. When we find out the communities that are most disproportionately affected, they are generally minority communities.

I give you a good example. Let me use my hometown of Baltimore City. A highway was built in the 1960's that was never completed. We call it the highway to nowhere. It is the franklin-mulberry corridor. If you go to west Baltimore, you will see this gully that is a blight to the community, it divides communities. 3,000 residents, mostly African American, are directly impacted by this highway to nowhere. It isolates neighborhoods such as Harlin Park. This legislation provides a billion dollars as a start to reconnecting communities that have been divided by highways. I know this is good news for people of Baltimore and these communities, and for other communities around the nation which the transportation program has hurt their community, not helped their community.

As I pointed out, there is increased investments in all of our modes of transportation. This past week, I was with Secretary Buttigieg in Baltimore with Senator van Hollen. The port of Baltimore is the economic engine of our community. Hundreds of thousands of jobs directly depend upon it; Baltimore is prepared for the super panamax. Thanks to the partnership with the federal government, this legislation will allow us to be more competitive in our ports, creating more jobs in our community.

I also pointed out the howard street tunnel that was recently authorized under an infra grant that would allow double stacking going through a tunnel that is over 100 years old through downtown Baltimore. This will make our community much more competitive. This bill provides additional funding for those infra grants. And then Maryland like every state in this nation has significant backlogs in dealing with our bridges. I could mention the American legion bridge right around here or the Johnson Bridge in southern Maryland, and the list goes on and on and on. This bill will allow us to get to some of those bridges.

Let me talk a moment if I might about transit. We need public transit. Our workers need to be able to get to work. We need to be much more sensitive to our environment and getting people out of their automobiles. We waste too much time in congestion. I can't tell you how much hours are wasted every day because of unnecessary congestion. Transit, public transit helps us deal with those challenges. This bill takes a quantum leap forward on the transit programs. I was particularly pleased that it includes a reauthorization of the WMATA program for the transit system in this region. I call it the nation's transit system, since it's used so much by federal workers in order to get to work. It extends the authorization of $150 million a year from the federal government through this decade. I particularly want to thank my colleagues in this region, Senators Warner, Kaine, and van Hollen. The four of us worked together to make sure we got the reauthorizing included in this legislation.

And then I want to acknowledge, and I want to thank particularly Senator Brown for his help on this, but there is now language in this bill that will allow those lines that were previously allowed -- eligible for capital contributions, but did not go forward, to be able to be reconsidered for a federal partnership in capital construction on transit. We have a rapid rail line in Baltimore city known as the red line that was stopped by our governor. We are hopeful that we can restart that. It is needed for dealing with public transit in Baltimore. That project would then now be eligible for consideration for federal funding, and I would hope that the leadership in Maryland would take advantage of this opportunity and put the red line back in the equation.

I want to talk a little bit about water projects. The environment and public works committee bill that we worked on which is the basis of this bill on water infrastructure passed this body by a vote of 89-2. It deals with drinking water and waste water infrastructure act, increasing funding in all those categories.  We had tremendous backlogs in water infrastructure in our community. We have water lines that are over 100 years old still being used in our communities. This bill will help us deal with that backlog.

It includes authorizations that I sponsored, including affordability. I want to thank Senator Wicker, my cosponsor on this. This would allow grants so that low-income families can afford their water bills. I could tell you in Maryland and many other communities around the nation, people can no longer afford their water bills, because so much pressure has been put on the ratepayers. This bill will set up a pilot program similar to a LIHEAP program to help low-income families deal with their water costs.

I also authored an authorization bill for resiliency grants with Senator Capito to deal with extreme weather conditions and cybersecurity issues, and I was pleased to see that included in the legislation. I do want to express my disappointment—there are things in this bill I'm sure all of us are not satisfied with. I was disappointed that the bill does not fund those new authorized programs, as was included in the legislation that passed this body and was recommended by the environment and public works committee. I hope we'll have a chance during the appropriation process to get funding for these new authorized programs.

I was pleased that President Biden’s initiative to remove lead plates was included. I can tell you in Baltimore, we have significant lead pipe issues, particularly in our school system, and I’m glad those programs will be funded. I am pleased also to be moving ahead on PFAS, which is a pollutant in our community as a result of federal installations. I was pleased to see we will be able to move forward on that.

And then broadband. We all know we need broadband infrastructure. It is included in this bill. The Brookings institute indicates that in the spring of 2020 when we went into lockdown in our schools, 12 million out of the 55 million students did not have access to classes online. That's a shocking number. And look what they lost during this past year. In Maryland, it's estimated that as many as 324,000 people in rural Maryland do not have access to broadband. And 96,000 households in the Baltimore region do not have access to broadband. We must do better. Our goal should be that every house should have access to high-speed internet, affordable internet. This legislation moves us forward on both access and affordability on broadband. That's critically important, and I’m glad to see that it's included.

As much as I support this legislation, I have got to express my disappointment as to how this bill is paid for. As chairman of the small business committee, I helped develop the programs that help small businesses during covid-19. They were lifesavers for small business. It saved small businesses, it saved our economy, it saved jobs, and it saved the growth engine for innovation in our community. One tool that we used that was extremely important was the economic injury disaster loan program and advance program. Over four million EIDL loans have been granted in excess of $230 billion. These grants helped save businesses, these loans helped save businesses. These are for the smaller of the small businesses. They are the ones who use it. These are low-interest, 30-year loans. We have had six million companies—small businesses—take advantage of the EIDL advance program, $23 billion. These are the differences between staying afloat or going under. The g.a.o. estimated this past week that 86% of the EIDL loans went to our most vulnerable small businesses, ten employees or less.

So why am I talking about it? Because this bill takes away the $13.5 billion from the EIDL program, just as the time—the EIDL loan program—just as the time where we have small businesses that are going to need these loans. We see an increase in wildfires, the hurricane season is coming, we're not through covid-19 yet, and yet they take away these funds. These are the most leveraged funds we have available; for the few federal dollars we put into it, we leverage much larger amounts of loans. Do we really want to cut back on the ability to help small businesses through these long-term loans? Unfortunately, taking this money away does exactly that.

In addition, it takes $17.5 billion from the advance program under EIDL. These are the grants that go to small businesses that can't afford to take out loans. Now, we know under a previous administration, they put a $150,000 cap on the EIDL loan program and $1,000 per employee on the advance program. Well, the Biden administration wants to increase the size of the loans up to the first $500,000 and then $2 million, but also to give $10,000 to the businesses that need it the most under advancements. With taking this money away, in total about $35 billion, it's going to make it virtually impossible for us to be able to do what we need to for small businesses. That's not right, and we're going to need to do something about it.

And madam president, I might point out, we have the restaurant revitalization act, that everyone here was very proud to help our restaurants that have been oversubscribed. We're going to need a lot more money to be put into that program, yet you're taking away our capacity in this bill to help fund small businesses. That's not right, and I hope I will continue to work with my colleagues so we can find a path forward to help America’s small businesses. We all talk about helping small businesses. Here is one example where we took the step in the wrong direction.

We don't have to choose between building modern infrastructure and helping small businesses. We could do both. And I’m disappointed at this moment that we're not going to be able to do everything we need to do to help the small business community in our country. I hope I will be able to revisit this at a later time, but it doesn't dull my enthusiasm for this very important legislation that I urge my colleagues to support. It will make a quantum leap forward in America’s competitiveness and create more jobs for America’s future.

With that, Madam President, I yield the floor.