Legislation would reform U.S. infrastructure spending, reaches out to rural communities
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legislation that backers say would ensure that federal infrastructure spending prioritizes low-income communities, local workers and disadvantaged businesses was introduced in Congress Wednesday by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
The bill, called the “Build Local, Hire Local Act,” would reform federal programs, creating what it says are “family-supporting jobs” rebuilding deteriorating infrastructure while “working to right the wrongs of decades of disinvestment and exclusionary federal policies that have cut off communities of color and marginalized populations from opportunity in urban and rural areas alike.”
If passed, the bill would guarantee that at least 30 percent of new infrastructure contracts go to minority-, women-, or veteran-owned businesses. The bill is sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The legislation would help create a comprehensive set of reforms to raise wages and labor standards, strengthen unions, invest in American manufacturing, create new opportunity for Americans who are struggling to get high-quality jobs, and strengthen communities that have been hurt by aging infrastructure and “failed federal policies,” the Democrats said.
According to sponsors, the reforms would be applied to the nation’s estimated $100 billion in annual infrastructure spending across a series of industries.
“Too much of our nation’s infrastructure is in disrepair, and we urgently need to get to work rebuilding it,” Gillibrand said. “But when we do, we also need to make sure we’re not repeating our government’s mistakes from last century and building barriers between marginalized communities and everyone else. That’s why I’m incredibly proud to introduce the Build Local, Hire Local Act with Congresswoman Bass.
“Our groundbreaking new bill would make sure that when we get to work on rebuilding our nation’s highways and other infrastructure, we are building up and repairing all of our communities – including the marginalized ones that got passed over the last time we were supposed to do the job. It would also make sure that we are hiring from those same communities to get the job done, with better wages and better working conditions.”
The senator, a Democratic candidate for president, encouraged “all New Yorkers and people across the country” to support the legislation and “fight” for its passage.
Specifically, the Build Local, Hire Local Act would do the following:
- Create high-quality local construction jobs for people who need them most through targeted hiring practices that use registered apprenticeships and coordinate with state and local workforce development boards.
- Rebuild infrastructure with new opportunities for small and disadvantaged businesses.
- Encourage best-value contracting, registered apprenticeships, and neutrality in union organizing “to ensure projects place a premium not just on the bottom line but also on the quality of jobs, safety, equity, climate resiliency, and environmental justice.”
- Establish a new “Buy America Bureau” that would help build American supply chains and bring transparency and coordination to the Buy America waiver process, and by encouraging the use of U.S. Employment Plans that prioritize existing and new American manufacturing and service jobs when building the nation’s infrastructure.
In an email to The Spectator, a Gillibrand aide highlighted the legislation's benefits for rural communities in the Southern Tier of New York state.
"One of the main provisions of the bill would require that the people in communities where federal infrastructure projects are being implemented, such as building rural water systems and broadband systems, can access the jobs that these projects create," Rocio Cruz, press secretary to Gillibrand, said in the email.
According to Cruz, the bill would create a $25 billion grant program, the Connecting Communities Grant Program, that would dedicate infrastructure investment to low-income or struggling areas. Funding for this program would be required to be distributed equally between rural areas and urban areas.
"The bill would also create a $5 billion job training program to provide pathways to careers in construction, specialty trades, and other infrastructure jobs," Cruz pointed out in an email to The Spectator. "Again, Senator Gillibrand designed this grant program so that funding is distributed equally between rural areas and urban areas."
The proposal would also create a new assistance program that would help all regions gather data on transportation accessibility, which would help improve transportation in all regions, including rural areas, Cruz said.
The legislation received a warm reception from several left-leaning groups and individuals including the National Urban League, the Center for American Progress, the Center for Law and Social Policy and John D. Porcari, former deputy secretary of transportation in the Obama Administration.
“The Build Local Hire Local Act is a twofer for communities all across America: it recycles hard-earned taxpayer dollars right back into the local economy while building badly-needed infrastructure,” Porcari said.