The $1.1 trillion federal appropriations bill passed by both the House and Senate and signed by President Trump on May 5 includes funding for several programs important to the U.S.-flag maritime industry as well as health care for retired coal miners and their families.
The bipartisan bill covers federal spending for the rest of Fiscal Year 2017, which runs through September 30.
Among other components, the Consolidated Appropriations Act fully funds the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP) at $300 million, boosting it to the amount called for in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act. Securing the increase (from $210 million) was a years-long effort in which the SIU worked exhaustively along with many allies.
Through the increase, each vessel in the 60-ship MSP fleet will receive a stipend of $5 million (the previous amount was $3.5 million). Military and government leaders have explained that the total cost of the MSP is a tiny fraction of the tens of billions of dollars it would cost the U.S. to replicate the sealift capability, intermodal infrastructure and other support made available to the Department of Defense by private-sector program enrollees.
The program itself maintains a fleet of militarily useful, commercially viable, American- crewed, U.S.-flag ships that sail in international commercial trades. Those vessels are made available to the Defense Department in times of war or other urgent circumstances, including humanitarian relief missions.
Additionally, the bill included money for the Food for Peace Program. Also known as PL-480, the program ensures that food and grain grown by American farmers and carried by American transportation workers is loaded onto U.S.-flag vessels by American dockworkers to help those in need around the world. It has been called one of the most successful foreign aid programs ever, and long has had bipartisan support. The SIU has been fighting attempts to weaken the program through giving straight cash payments to non-governmental organizations and/or foreign governments in the place of actually providing food.
Overall, the bill provides $1.9 billion for various food aid programs covered by cargo preference.
The appropriations act includes approximately $274.5 million in funding for the National Defense Reserve Fleet, including expenses related to the Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force. In fiscal year 2016, the appropriation was approximately $273 million.
Meanwhile, Seafarers LOG readers may recall previous articles about the crisis facing more than 22,000 union retirees and their families from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), as their health care was about to be cut off unless the federal government intervened. The Mine Workers were promised health care by President Truman during a 1946 contract agreement. Congress passed needed funding measures in 1992 and 2006 to uphold that pledge, but the 2008 recession and related problems threatened the pact. Until last month’s measure was passed, health care funding for these retirees and families would have ended May 5.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, formerly president of the UMWA, stated, “For thousands of coal miners who suffer from black lung, as my father did, this funding for health care is as important as a breath of fresh air. The members of my union, the United Mine Workers of America, dug the coal that powered this country for the last 150 years and created massive wealth for American industry. Our union members kept our part of the bargain while mining corporations used bankruptcy laws to break their promises to provide good health benefits and a secure retirement. For months, UMWA members and allies stormed Capitol Hill to demand action, and today we are grateful that Congress helped make it right. Congress has done the right thing by providing permanent funding for the care coal miners need.
“President Trump has said he supports coal miners—and signing this deal will put those words into action,” he concluded.
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