As reported over the past few months, we continue to interact with our congressional delegation – House and Senate, U.S. House committee staff, Florida cruise and maritime organizations, and various other U.S. seaport organizations including AAPA concerning COVID-19 seaport relief funding. The next round of relief funding is being considered by Congress during the end of July and into the first weeks of August. There have been a lot of discussions about potential COVID-19 seaport relief funding, including the following:
- Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Act (MTSERA) – House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman DeFazio introduced the legislation in the House (H.R. 7515) and amended the language on to the House National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The amendment did not include any funding for the Relief Act, but did authorize the Maritime Administration (MARAD) to create the grant assistance program to pay for “repairing and/or replacing equipment, facilities, and shore infrastructure that have suffered serious damage during a major national disaster such as floods, hurricanes, or tsunamis.” MARAD would also be authorized to reimburse or provide assistance to cover the operating and overhead costs involved with emergency response operations, cleaning, sanitization, janitorial services, staffing, workforce retention, paid leave, procurement of protective health equipment and training for employees and contractors, debt service payments, infrastructure repair projects, and other maritime transportation system operations before, during or after an emergency necessary to keep the system operating reliably and efficiently.Senator Merkley (D-Oregon) introduced the legislation in the Senate (S. 4395), but as noticed below the language in only included in a stand-alone bill that has not been scheduled for a hearing to date.
- Funding Language latest COVID-19 Relief Legislation – Congress is currently debating the next round of COVID-19 relief. The House sent over their $3 trillion dollar Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act on May 15th. The Senate is currently trying to craft an agreement with Senate republicans and democrats – tentatively named the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. We have been working with the American Association of Port Authorities and others to include language specifically committing $1.5 billion for COVID-19 emergency relief specifically for public port authorities in this relief legislation. We have held several discussions, including the July 29th Zoom meeting attended by several port directors, with Florida congressional delegation members, staff, and others expressing our support for this authorization.
We are working with all parties to push for a $3.5 billion emergency relief authorization that would provide $1.5 billion for seaports and $2 billion for other eligible maritime businesses like harbor pilots. Authorized uses of these funds would match the authorized uses described in the MTSERA bill above. We will continue to express the “one-voice” of Florida seaports in support of this emergency funding.
We appreciate the hard work of all of our seaports and their Washington contract lobbyists on this issue. This unified effort has allowed us to ensure that our Florida members as well as House and Senate leadership understand our message and need for COVID-19 emergency relief. We will continue to use all means necessary to communicate our message. The FPC policy paper outlining relief requests can be found on the website.
The House has been crafting their Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations bills including the National Defense bill, Energy and Water bill and the Transportation bill. All of these bills contain congressional appropriations that would benefit a variety of seaport issues. The Senate has only begun negotiations on their National Defense bill, and it does not currently contain any appropriations for seaport issues.
- National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – As stated above, this legislation was amended in the House Rules Committee by Chairman DeFazio to include the MTSERA grant program authorization. Currently, the bill does not include any specific funding for the MTSERA grant program. The House bill was passed out of the House on July 21st by a vote along party lines. The bill is now in the Senate. The Senate bill was passed out of the Senate on July 23rd and does not contain any language creating a MTSERA grant program. Congress will have to create a conference committee to resolve differences in this legislation, pass this legislation in a different appropriation bill or enact a continuing resolution by October 1st to ensure governmental funding. The NDAA historically has been the one appropriations bill that passes on time and we expect that some form of the legislation will pass. We are hopeful that COVID-19 relief language will be included in a relief bill passed in early August, however if that does not occur, we will still have an opportunity to amend the NDAA bill to include authority and appropriations for the MTSERA grant program.
- House Six-Bill Mini Omnibus Appropriations Bill – The House is currently considering an omnibus bill containing six Fiscal Year 2021 spending bills: Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Service and General Government, Labor-HHS-Education, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (THUD). The bill contains the following provisions related to seaport programs and funding:
- Army Corps of Engineers – For fiscal year 2021, the bill provides a total of $7.63 billion, an increase of $1.7 billion above the President’s budget request, to the Corps. This includes $151 million for Investigations, $2.6 billion for Construction and $3.84 billion for Operation and Maintenance. The bill also authorizes seven new study starts and seven new construction projects. The bill also includes $17 billion to “support economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.” This authorization is provided to the Corps to “accelerate work on Corps projects around the country.”
- DOT/MARAD – For fiscal year 2021, the bill provides $1 billion for National Infrastructure Investments (TIGER/BUILD), equal to the FY 2020 enacted level and the President’s budget request. $300 million for the Port Infrastructure Development Program, an increase of $75 million above the FY 2020 enacted level. The President’s budget request proposed eliminating this program. The bill also includes another $1 billion for the Port Infrastructure Development Program to “support economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”
This Omnibus Bill is expected to pass out of the House by the end of July or the first week of August. As noted above, the Senate has not begun any discussions on similar appropriations bills, and it is unclear when they might begin discussions.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed the 2020 Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) bill out of Committee on July 15th. The bill is now available for a vote by the full House. The bill further expands the budget cap and full use of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMT) allowing for the expenditure of over $9.3 billion at the end of Fiscal Year 2019. The bill includes 10 percent of HMT revenues for Donor Ports and a 10-year extension of the existing Donor and Energy Transfer port program. The bill also allows for a recalibration of what seaports qualify for the Donor and Energy Transfer port program to each year of the most recent 3 years – currently PortMiami and Port Everglades qualify for this program. Finally, the bill also includes authorization language for the Corps to expand uses of advance maintenance authority to help with shoaling problems in port harbors like Tampa Bay and Palm Beach. We worked with the AAPA and our seaport partners requesting WRDA language to help pass this language out of the House Committee. Once again, Florida Committee leadership was instrumental to the bi-partisan development of this legislation.
The Senate has not considered any WRDA legislation to date. They have passed a substantial “water” bill that could be amended on the Senate floor to include similar WRDA legislation to the House bill described above. AAPA and others have been working with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee leadership to include similar HMT language in that Senate water bill.
On July 29th, FMC Commissioners Sola and Dye invited the Department of Transportation’s Acting Under Secretary for Policy Joel Szabat to hear directly from individuals that work in or in support of the passenger cruise industry about how COVID-19 has impacted operations and livelihoods. Among those participating were government officials, port directors, harbor pilots, members of organized labor, transportation service providers, leaders from the hospitality industry, and chief executive officers and other executives from airlines, shipping lines, and cruise operators. FPC Chair Kuryla helped lead the discussion from industry officials and the group provided an excellent discussion of the extensive negative economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioner Sola stated “just as it is easy to fail to appreciate the importance of container shipping to the Nation’s economy, it is easy to overlook how vitally important the passenger cruise industry is to ports, cities, and states. There are people and industries physically far removed from idled cruise vessels who depend on that industry for their livelihood. Hotels, airlines, taxi companies, longshore labor, caterers, farmers, and linen companies are just some immediate examples.” We will continue to work with Commissioner Sola as he interacts with the administration on how to help the maritime industry, including efforts to resume cruise passenger operations.
Several Florida port directors and other Florida maritime industry representatives have participated in at least twice monthly Ports and Waterways Sector calls with Maritime Administrator – there were two in July, on the 9th and the 30th. We continue to listen and participate as necessary in these discussions. We have reached out to MARAD to offer information, policy papers and other assistance to help with MARAD discussions.
We continue to interact with individual cruise line representatives and CLIA representatives on efforts to resume passenger operations in the U.S. With the issuance of and extension of the “no-sail” order until September 30th, we have discussed the CDC order and how to respond to request for Federal Register input by the CDC. The CDC has issued a “request for comments from the public that will be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships.” The deadline for the submission of comments is September 21st. We will discuss this issue during the FSTED Council meeting in September and plan to submit comments on behalf of the Florida Ports Council.