A bipartisan House bill introduced on Wednesday would restore the share of federal food aid required to be transported by U.S.-flag ships from 50 percent to 75 percent.
The bill, introduced by Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Jeff Landry, R-La., would reverse the $15 million offset passed through the surface transportation bill. It’s unclear how the funding gap in the roughly two-year, $104 billion would be filled if the bill passes Congress.
“There are fewer than 100 U.S.-flagged vessels in the foreign trade now, and they carry less than 2 percent of U.S. cargoes. By eliminating potentially hundreds of thousands of metric tons of preference cargoes, the effect of Section 100124 will be to speed the continuing decline of our fleet, which could leave our military and our economy dependent on foreign vessels,” said Cummings, who previously served as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Marine Transportation.
The change to federal aid business is expected to cut U.S.-flag aid shipments by 500,00 tons, eliminate the need for up to 16 vessels and cost 640 seafarer jobs, according to Maritime Administration estimates.
Supporters of the change to the preference for food aid argue non-U.S. flag carriers provide cheaper shipping rates. Higher labor costs and benefits make U.S.-flag merchant vessels on average 2.7 times more expensive to operate than the vessels of foreign competitors, according to a 2011 study sponsored by the Maritime Administration.
“This ill-conceived change in our cargo preference laws would literally ship American jobs overseas,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the top Democrat in the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “The SEAS Act provides a sensible solution to correct this flaw in the surface transportation bill. It is a job-protecting measure that merits smooth sailing through Congressional consideration and enactment.”
Aside from Rahall, the bill is also co-sponsored by Reps. Rick Larsen, D-Wash; Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.; Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii; Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.; Tim Bishop, D-N.Y.; and Candice Miller, R-Mich.