Biden visits predominantly Black Baltimore to sell ‘transformational’ infrastructure plan

EXCLUSIVE: While President Joe Biden acknowledged that nation's inflation and bottleneck in the supply chain are "worrisome," he and elected officials say billions of dollars of investment will create more jobs and significantly improve American living

Infrastructure week is in full effect with a focus on the nation’s seaports and access to affordable broadband for all Americans. 

President Joe Biden‘s visit Wednesday to the Port of Baltimore is timely as he promotes his infrastructure and economic agenda. Ports are a critical component to cut into the bottleneck in the supply chain that has in part contributed to a rise in inflation. 

U.S. President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the recently passed $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act at the Port of Baltimore on November 10, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

New inflation numbers show a significant uptick in prices of goods and services. The rise of inflation was up by 6.2% in October, marking the highest numbers in 31 years — something the president acknowledged is “worrisome” during his remarks in Baltimore, which has a Black population of over 60%.

“Many people remain unsettled about the economy and we all know why. They see higher prices. They go to the store … or online and they can’t find what they always want and when they want it. And we’re tracking these issues and trying to figure out how to tackle them head on,” said Biden.

The bottleneck and the rising prices on everything from lumber to food, and more — as well how to fix the issue — was a part of last week’s G20 conference attended by President Biden and other world leaders. 

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said, “For one thing: transparency. How do we know, at every level, where there may be bottlenecks or breaks in the supply chain so that we can quickly respond to them?”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki explained a few weeks ago that with the president’s dual infrastructure and social spending bills that have yet to be signed into law — the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Build Back Better Act — the president is trying to do exactly that.

U.S. President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden greets workers before speaking about the recently passed $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act at the Port of Baltimore on November 10, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Psaki said the president’s agenda would “cut the cost for the American people,” which includes social spending like childcare and eldercare. The White House has frequently touted that Biden’s Build Back Better framework would also cut the child poverty rate in half, or as Psaki put it, “make sure The People have some breathing room

Dwayne Moore, a Black small business owner and chief operating officer at Moore National Facility Service, told theGrio that the bottleneck supply chain has had an impact on his company.

“Based on the supply chain, the product one is like six months behind. The products that I would have to get is an inferior product, because I have to seek out elsewhere,” says Moore.

The president hopes that the billions of dollars he has earmarked for the Port of Baltimore, along with other trade ports in the nation, will make an immediate impact and cut into the inflation numbers as well as add jobs to local economies. 

The Port of Baltimore is a significant deep water cargo port in the east and vital to the area as it is a large employment center that has almost 100,000 jobs linked to it. It is also the nation’s number one port for automobiles and light trucks, boasting its status as one of the largest roll-on and roll-off cargo bays in the country.

State and port officials contend this port is not congested and they are getting new contracts from shipping companies that are re-routing from other highly trafficked ports to get their goods distributed faster.

U.S. Congressman Anthony Brown of Maryland expects billions worth of investment for the Port of Baltimore through funds from Biden’s infrastructure bill.

Rep. Anthony Brown
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol July 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

”There’s some major projects that have to happen at the port. There’s ongoing dredging to make sure that they can manage the supremax ships coming through the expanded Panama Canal,” Congressman Brown told theGrio.

Congressman Brown emphasized the needs to maintain and move forward are real as, ”we want to maintain that it creates jobs, not only at the port, but the entire logistic operations that support the port. We’ve seen over the last few weeks a supply chain congestion — a slowdown in the supply chain” 

The U.S. representative said that, given the current supply issue, there’s an anticipation that goods for Christmas will not arrive on time. He emphasizes the need to invest in ports and its workers.

“We’ve got to make sure that we’re investing in the training opportunities for the longshoremen; for those who handle the cargo and the containers coming on and off. We have to make sure that the safety programs in place for the people that work at the port, make sure that the berths and this is going back to physical infrastructure that can accommodate these larger ships so we can be competitive.”

Baltimore’s port is seeing billions flow in after the CARES Act (signed into law by former president Donald Trump), the American Rescue Plan and this latest infrastructure bill once President Biden signs it into law.

U.S. Congressman Kweisi Mfume of Maryland tells theGrio that the infrastructure bill that was passed by Congress and sent to President Biden’s desk “will help significantly push this port further in front of everybody else. The funding, the congressman adds, will ensure visibility for the city and improve operations for the Port of Baltimore and the people who work there.

Mfume says it’s also critical that there are apprenticeship and training programs to help spur more jobs for young people.

U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume
U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-MD) (C) speaks as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) (2nd L), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (R) listen during a news conference May 17, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Biden administration is hopeful that the federal funds will help maintain and expand, as well as accommodate the nation’s call for supply and demand.

Sea ports like those in Baltimore need maintenance. Congressman Brown says the port has a continuous dredging process to clean the area so it can handle the influx of ships from the Panama Canal.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott highlighted the billions of dollars that will go toward not only job creation but also improving the city’s roads and transportation, including investment in Amtrak that would allow Baltimore residents to travel to neighboring Washington, D.C. in just 30 minutes.

Mayor Scott described the federal investments as “transformational for us as a city.” 

President Biden is offering some immediate actions, according to the White House:

• Launch programs to modernize ports and marine highways with more than $240 million in grant funding within the next 45 days. The Port Infrastructure Development Grant program is the first and only federal grant program wholly dedicated to investments in port infrastructure. DOT will award $230 million in funding for this program and $13 million for the Marine Highway Program to support waterborne freight service.

• Identify projects for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction at coastal ports and inland waterways within the next 60 days. This plan will provide a roadmap for more than $4 billion in funding to repair outdated infrastructure and to deepen harbors for larger cargo ships.

• Prioritize key ports of entry for modernization and expansion within the next 90 days. This plan will identify $3.4 billion in investments to upgrade obsolete inspection facilities and allow more efficient international trade through the northern and southern borders.

• Open competition for the first round of port infrastructure grants funded through the bipartisan infrastructure deal within 90 days. DOT will announce more than $475 million in additional funding for port and marine highway infrastructure.

The White House also briefed the press Tuesday on the next move in affordable and accessible broadband, another part of President Biden’s infrastructure plan. 

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo said from the briefing room podium that there’s a current effort to pull together a public-private partnership.

“Thirty to 50 years [from now] people can look back [at this moment] as a turning point. Laying fiber and affordability are just as important. It doesn’t do a family any good if they have broadband and can’t afford it,” said Raimondo.