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February 4, 2021 4:00 PM, EST

DeFazio to Transportation Workers: Help Is on the Way

Peter DeFazio DeFazio, shown during the unveiling of the Move America Forward Act in June 2020, says Transportation workers in particular have been hard hit by the health dangers and financial repercussions during the pandemic. (Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg News)

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The top transportation policymaker in the U.S. House of Representatives, insisted help is on the way for commercial supply chains, and commuter sectors vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Specifically, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, pointed to President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief proposal and a recent mask mandate as safety improvements for transportation personnel and the traveling public.

“Transportation workers in particular have been hard hit by the devastating health dangers and significant financial repercussions of the public health crisis our nation continues to face,” the chairman said during a hearing Feb. 4, insisting the federal government “must do better” in its response to the pandemic. “There is hope on the horizon with a vaccine, new plans by the Biden administration to double the nation’s testing capacity.”

Biden America Rescue Plan by Transport Topics on Scribd

To mitigate the spread of the virus, the new administration is requiring face masks to be worn on airplanes, trains, transit networks and hubs, such as airports, and terminals. Biden also has proposed a $1.9 trillion package meant to assist transit systems and freight stakeholders affected by the pandemic.

Under Biden’s plan, $20 billion would be dedicated for public transit systems. He also is calling for $160 billion for a nationwide vaccination program, $30 billion in rental assistance, $1,400 in direct payment assistance, and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Transportation experts appearing before DeFazio’s panel called on policymakers to approve measures designed to enhance the safety of workers, as well as passengers, across every mode.

“I urge this committee to do all within its power to advance programs that prevent transmission of COVID-19 in all means of transportation under its jurisdiction,” said David Michaels, a professor at George Washington University’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “Universal masking is an important step, but it is not sufficient. Workers and passengers need operators to develop and implement comprehensive infection control plans.”

Lewie Pugh

Pugh

Lewie Pugh, executive vice president with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, suggested lawmakers prioritize truck drivers’ access to COVID-19 vaccines. He suggested Congress approve vaccinations at truck stops, as well as rest areas. As he put it, “Few truckers know precisely where they will be from week to week, making it difficult to return home for shots and often impossible to predict where they may be located when it’s time for a second booster.”

Congressional Democrats are endorsing Biden’s relief package. The House recently adopted a budget framework that would pave the way for the plan’s adoption. Once the procedural budget framework is approved by both chambers, filibuster-proof legislation consisting of the president’s relief package will be considered sometime this month.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) observed: “Health care workers, first responders, police and fire, transportation, sanitation, food workers, our teachers … They need the state and local governments to be funded, and that is very important in a bipartisan way.”

Senior Republicans have mostly criticized the top line of Biden’s COVID-19 aid package. Nearly a dozen Senate Republicans offered a counterproposal of $600 billion, pointing to myriad rescue measures enacted last year.

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“Democrats reject the bipartisan approach that built all five of our historic COVID[-19] packages,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Feb. 4. “Let’s hope President Biden remembers the governing approach he promised and changes course.”

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member on the transportation panel, said: “We need to ensure that all of this money leaves the federal government and gets to the intended recipients as soon as possible.”

He added, “Moving forward through the recovery, we must make smart, safe, and responsible decisions to get our workforce going and businesses hiring again.”

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