Infrastructure Infodemic

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[author: Julie Minerva*]

As media reports of the coronavirus started to become front-page news, my interest was peaked by articles that described the situation as an “infodemic”. Now several weeks and three-federal relief packages later, I think it is safe to say that many non-federal infrastructure interests are surfing from an infodemic on what Congress did and (more to the point) did not do with over $2 trillion dollars in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). In the last week, I’ve fielded more questions than I can count regarding federal stimulus opportunities. And with each response, I’ve done my “glass half full” best to throw tepid, not cold water on the situation.

The reality, of course, is that we have a serious public health crisis on our hands. Measures such as shelter in place, social distancing, and reminders to wash your hands abound. Congress is in triage mode and the federal response, as shown through the CARES Act, is aimed at providing immediate emergency relief to support the nation’s healthcare needs, severely impacted industries, and a rapidly growing unemployed workforce — not to fund projects unrelated to the pandemic.

A stimulus package like we saw in 2009 with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) could materialize at some point in the future, but that’s not what the President signed on Friday. This is what you need to know for your situational awareness:

  • Yes, there are funds for the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in the CARES Act, $70 million to be exact, but those funds are intended to support Corps Emergency Operations Centers to ensure continuous operations of critical Corps infrastructure like locks and dams;
  • Yes, there is a provision to take the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund “off budget” and that will go into effect in January 2021 or WRDA 2020, whichever happens first. It’s cause for celebration in the navigation community, but additional steps need to be taken before this translates into real dollars for ports and harbors;
  • Yes, there has been talk about including an infrastructure package in relief packages #4, #5, or #6 (or however many bills it takes). The timing of those packages are unclear, but unlikely to occur before the Senate returns to DC on April 20th;
  • And most importantly — NO, you haven’t missed out on federal dollars for your projects. Now is the time to take care of your loved ones and your communities.

Rest assured, when Congress is ready to fund a true stimulus beyond the immediate pandemic threat, infrastructure will not be forgotten and we’ll all be ready with our list of priorities.

*Julie Minerva is a Washington, DC based infrastructure advocate who in good, bad, and uncertain times specializes in Civil Works and all things related to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. You can find her at: jminerva@carpiclay.com

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