Though there is much anticipation for President Biden’s infrastructure bill, once again, partisan politics keep stalling its passage. In addition to Republicans, liberal and moderate Democrats each have their own vision of what is best for the American people. In jeopardy is the passage of Biden’s sweeping economic package seeking $3.5 trillion and a separate bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. Biden, however, promises, “We’re going to get this done,” as Democrats attempt to overcome divisions to enact his agenda.
The infrastructure bill would provide $110 billion to repair the nation’s aging highways, bridges, and roads. According to the White House, 173,000 miles of America’s highways and major roads, and 45,000 bridges are in poor condition. And the almost $40 billion for bridges is the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system.
One of the ever-present questions about government programs revolves around how to pay for them. Democrats have the answer. The five-year spending package would tap $210 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief aid and $53 billion in unemployment insurance aid some states have halted. Add to that an array of other smaller pots of money, such as petroleum reserve sales and spectrum auctions for 5G services.
Questions naturally arise concerning how any of this going to help individual citizens. First, Biden declares that his agenda aggressively seeks racial equity in jobs, training, and education and economic opportunity. One such provision deals with contracting for huge construction projects. Historically, Black and other minority businesses lack the funds to successfully handle or even bid for these contracts. The bill requires breaking the construction projects into smaller pieces so smaller businesses, i.e., Black businesses can participate—a game-changing opportunity for these businesses.
Another major part of the bill, according to National Urban League President Marc Morial, is the Minority Business Development Agency Act of 2021, which makes that agency permanent, sets requirements, and expands the agency’s capacity to promote and administer programs to assist the development and resiliency of minority business enterprises (MBEs). Black businesses, especially, have been recently challenged on many fronts. The pandemic, the resulting economic downturn, and recent climate disasters have closed many businesses and threaten to close many more. Recent climate disasters also seriously affected minority neighborhoods.
US Army Corps of Engineers Commanding General Thomas Bostwick spoke about the urgency of fixing our infrastructure, “. . . there’s going to be a bigger Katrina; there’s going to be a bigger Sandy; there’s going to be a bigger Hurricane Maria; and they’re going to be right around the corner.” Urban flooding, as seen during Hurricane Ida, is a nationwide issue. Bostwick reacted to a recent National Academies study for FEMA, “One of the telling facts that came out of that was that people of color, the elderly, and the poor and disadvantaged were affected a lot more by where they lived and the urban flooding that was occurring across America. And this was a real problem for a lot of people for a long time.”