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By Joe Hohenstein
As lawmakers in the U.S. House return to Washington D.C. this week to continue to work on President Joe Biden’s broader Build Back Better agenda, we may see a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure agreement much sooner than the larger reconciliation package.
I hope my Republican and Democratic counterparts in Pennsylvania’s House delegation will support much-needed improvements in infrastructure when they have the opportunity to vote for the proposed bipartisan package.
I also hope they will vote for immediate passage of the larger reconciliation bill, because it adds investments from caregiving to education to school construction and more to the infrastructure plan.
As a state lawmaker, I have seen firsthand people in my district trying to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal relief efforts already underway via the American Rescue Plan — most visibly, stimulus checks and child tax credit payments — have been a lifesaver for many of my neighbors because they put money directly in the pockets of those impacted the most.
The additional investments included in the reconciliation bill are necessary to ensure that our recovery includes all Pennsylvanians, and that the economy that emerges after COVID-19 is one that rewards work and not wealth.
While the American Rescue Plan and what could be passed via reconciliation both provide very tangible, immediate solutions that working people can see in their bank accounts, Pennsylvanians shouldn’t overlook how much they have to gain from the infrastructure agreement. Where the ARP funds are an immediate boost to the pocketbook, the infrastructure plan provides long lasting fuel for our economic engine.
The White House’s “infrastructure report card” gave Pennsylvania a C-, noting the commonwealth’s roads and bridges which are in disrepair, drinking water infrastructure which will need a large amount of maintenance in the near future, and the state’s manufacturing sector’s need for a revamp.
Investments proposed in the bipartisan infrastructure deal would improve these needed public systems. We will keep our drinking water clean, invest in public transit and rail, and help to repair our decaying roads and bridges. All this, while also helping to tackle the climate crisis head on by making clean energy technologies more accessible, electric school buses a reality and environmental remediation a standard practice.
These investments would ultimately help to better our citywide, regional and statewide economies. Take, for example, the PhilaPort, a portion of which resides in the district I represent.
Our port is the 15th largest import port in the country, and it generated $864.9 billion in wages, salaries and local consumption expenditures in the 2019 fiscal year.
The port is a major cog in Pennsylvania’s economic engine. When it is passed, the bipartisan infrastructure agreement will help ensure it continues to have a positive impact on both constituents in my district and our broader city and regional economies. It will even help to expand the potential reach of the port.
Additionally, similar to how President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal put an entire generation to work after a crisis and simultaneously created a lasting legacy of public works projects that revitalized the country, the infrastructure plan and additional reconciliation investments will create millions of jobs across the country — many of them right here in Philadelphia and the surrounding region – at the same time permanent improvements are achieved.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take a crisis and turn it into an inflection point and an opportunity. I hope our federal lawmakers will do what’s right and vote both to revitalize our infrastructure and provide new economic opportunities to the communities that need it the most.
State Rep. Joe Hohenstein, a Democrat, represents the Philadelphia-based 177th House District. He writes from Harrisburg.
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