White House rushes with infrastructure fixes for US economy

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The Biden administration is relying on infrastructure dollars to help fix closed ports and cover the country with Internet access

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BALTIMORE — The Biden administration is relying on infrastructure dollars to help fix closed ports and blanket the nation with Internet access — but a series of initiatives launched Tuesday show that there is immediate momentum. May not be fast enough to meet immediate needs. An economy facing a supply chain squeeze and a shift to remote working.

President Joe Biden spoke with the CEOs of Wal-Mart, Target, UPS and FedEx on Tuesday about how to overcome supply chain challenges as ships still wait to dock at some of the nation’s major ports. The major problem is that these ports are facing record volumes of shipping containers as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

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According to a White House official, Biden received updates from the CEO on how deliveries are being accelerated to ensure store shelves will be well-stocked this holiday season. Businesshala News first reported Biden’s talks with corporate leaders.

Yet the concrete policy moves being discussed by the administration show that there is no quick fix to the supply chain issues that are still plaguing small businesses and high prices facing consumers. Nor can the administration build a national broadband network faster as more Americans move to remote work.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo highlighted at a White House briefing on Friday the $65 billion for broadband access in the $1 trillion infrastructure package that the House approved. She said jobs would be created and poorer Americans would receive “affordable” internet service, though she did not specify an exact dollar amount on monthly bills.

Planning involves careful logistics which will take time to implement. Each state will receive at least $100 million to help lay fiberoptic cabling and ensure its citizens can access the Internet. This process will happen when job seekers are increasingly requesting remote work where they can work from home on their computers.

“The president wants us to fix this,” Raimondo said. “And if it takes a little longer to lay the groundwork for fiber and broadband, we’re going to do that.”

Similarly, the administration on Tuesday announced a plan to identify and pay for possible upgrades to US ports within the next 90 days – hopefully eventually due to a shortage of trucks waiting to dock and cargo haulers. Inflation is expected to moderate.

As the US emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, overcrowded and outdated ports have hampered economic recovery. The mix of inflation and the prospect of empty store shelves during holiday shopping has created a sense of despair for many Americans and politically hurt President Joe Biden and Democrats.

Senior administration officials said on Tuesday that the Department of Transportation will allow port officials to redirect any remaining funds from grant projects to address supply chain issues. For example, the Georgia Ports Authority will use $8 million for the Port of Savannah to convert its inland facilities into container yards, freeing up dock space and accelerating the flow of goods to their final destinations.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss upcoming plans, which come on the heels of the House backing a bipartisan infrastructure package late Friday. The package includes $17 billion to improve coastal and land-based ports that can help address challenges in the long term.

Biden’s team is straight ahead in promoting the potential benefits from a comprehensive infrastructure package, though they largely shy away from claiming that Americans can see clear and obvious changes in their lives ahead of the 2022 midterm elections . Instead, the focus has been on how spending on roads, bridges and broadband will help the US economy compete against the rest of the world.

The president indicated in remarks from Democratic supporters on Tuesday that he would remind voters in the months before the infrastructure victory. He said the “last president” had promised to pursue legislation, but failed to deliver.

“So it was left to us,” Biden said at the virtual event hosted by the Democratic National Committee. “We got the job done.”

Administration officials said the port initiative announced on Tuesday will make the supply chain faster, more efficient and environment-friendly in the medium to long term.

Biden will visit the port of Baltimore on Wednesday to highlight the administration’s efforts. It is part of a broader effort to show that the administration will tackle inflation that has left Americans feeling more pessimistic about the economy. Updated figures for the Consumer Price Index will be released on Wednesday, last reported prices were 5.4% higher than a year ago.

The Baltimore visit is designed to highlight the types of investments the administration believes will help open up the supply chain. The port in Baltimore is adding container cranes and 50-foot berths where ships can be unloaded. The administration also approved grants so that the Howard Street Tunnel – a train artery opened in 1895 – could be expanded to ferry double-stacked containers onto railcars.

The Biden administration previously helped broker a deal to extend operating hours at the Port of Los Angeles, but the challenge has been difficult to address right away.

Additional steps include launching a $240 million grant program over the next 45 days to modernize ports and maritime highways. Within 60 days, the government seeks to identify repair projects and port deepening opportunities for larger ships that could be a guide to more than $4 billion in construction by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The government will also see over the next 90 days whether ports of entry should be upgraded and expanded as part of the $3.4 billion investment. It also plans within 90 days to open the first round of more than $475 million in grants for ports through the newly passed infrastructure package.

The Department of Transport intends to publish a playbook for states on freight traffic and issue guidance on best practices, so as to maximize the value of infrastructure investments. There will also be a request for information by the Department of Transportation to improve data collection and sharing to improve supply chain efficiency and transparency.

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