Michael Wood, Manager, Education & Workforce
There is bipartisan agreement in Congress on the need for substantial investment in infrastructure and a final wave of COVID-19 relief, said Colin Allred, U.S. Congressman for Texas’ 32nd Congressional District, during a discussion hosted by the Dallas Regional Chamber and moderated by Chris Lawrence of WFAA.
Last week, the U.S. House passed the Moving Forward Act, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package, mostly along party lines. However, Allred believes the opposition from his colleagues across the aisle has more to do with details rather than disagreement over the need for significant infrastructure investment.
To Allred, the Moving Forward Act is a much-needed refresh to a federal infrastructure system that has not seen a significant update since the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s. At $1.5 trillion, the package still comes in well below the $3 trillion experts say the U.S. needs to sufficiently modernize its infrastructure.
Still, the package, if it receives traction in the U.S. Senate, would make historic investments in public transportation, including high-speed rail projects, and provide meaningful funding for roads and highways. Despite decreased ridership amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Allred stood by the proposed investment in public transportation, arguing that a diversity of transportation options is needed to reduce congestion in regions experiencing explosive population growth, such as North Texas. The funding for public transportation would also help ensure transit agencies survive the economic fallout stemming from the pandemic.
The Moving Forward Act also allocates funding to better equip American households with high-speed internet access, a need brought into focus during shutdowns forced by COVID-19 as schools shifted online and health care providers increasingly leveraged telemedicine to treat patients. In part, the bill aims to alleviate barriers to access by creating broadband infrastructure in areas where it does not exist, a problem that is prevalent in both low-income urban and rural communities.
Concurrently, Congress is expected to approve another COVID-19 relief package this month in the face of surging cases and hospitalizations across the country. In May, the U.S. House passed the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion stimulus package, in response to outstanding needs related to the crisis. While the bill has stalled in the Senate, Allred hopes its priorities will be reflected in what is likely the final COVID-19 relief package of 2020. In particular, the HEROES Act promises a second wave of direct payments to certain households, allocates federal support to cities, counties, and states facing widening budget deficits, extends unemployment benefits, and infuses additional funding into the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
Despite some technical difficulties, Allred believes the PPP is the most effective method to continue supporting businesses and their employees, as the program leverages existing channels of lending to provide aid to businesses. That structure, however, has created difficulties for small business owners – disproportionately women and minorities – who do not have existing relationships with financial institutions approved to administer PPP loans. Additional appropriations for the program could add to the $60 billion set aside specifically for women- and minority-owned businesses in the second round of PPP funding. A final round of investment in the program may also permit certain businesses still in need of support to ‘double-dip,’ or draw a second PPP loan amid the resurging pandemic.
Republican Congressional leaders have also voiced interest in limiting liability for health care workers and businesses through the upcoming relief package, a provision Allred supports so long as protection is only granted to those taking serious measures to ensure the safety of customers and staff.
Yet no stimulus amount will reset the national economy to pre-pandemic levels, argues Allred. To accomplish that, the country must find a way to contain the virus through an aggressive testing and tracing program. The HEROES Act includes substantial funding to speed up testing, hire thousands of contact tracers, and help individuals who contract the coronavirus to self-isolate.
“The biggest shift that has to happen, in my opinion, is a shift from accepting that we are going to have widespread community spread of this virus… to aggressively attacking this virus,” said Allred, highlighting South Korea’s effective approach to hunting down and containing cases of the coronavirus. “That is the approach I’d like to see us take both for our public health and, of course, our economic health.”