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The Biden administration is slated to decide on a package to help rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore

W.H. eyeing emergency funding for Maryland bridge and Port of Baltimore

Add to the legislative docket during this incredibly busy election year: A massive package to help rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore and account for the economic impact of the structure’s collapse.

Let’s be entirely clear: Congress is going to have to appropriate a lot of money — perhaps more than $1 billion — to help rebuild the bridge and potentially aid the Port of Baltimore, which is reeling from the economic impact of the Dali’s crash. The port could be closed for another six weeks.

Senior Hill aides are already saying that the package will take time to draft and pass. Any legislation to address the deadly disaster is certain to become a target for other pet projects and key lawmaker priorities. In other words, this will become a must-pass bill.

It will be another headache for Speaker Mike Johnson, who will likely again have to rely on Democratic votes — thus swallowing Democratic priorities — to get it across the finish line.

Nothing is easy to pass in the 118th Congress, and this won’t be any different. But federal and state officials have been highlighting the urgency of rebuilding the bridge and ensuring that normal operations at the Port of Baltimore can resume quickly. The port is a major commercial hub for the East Coast and one of the busiest in the country.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said it’s “likely” that the administration will ask Congress to “help top-up” some emergency funds.

“Infrastructure is, or at least ought to be, a bipartisan priority,” Buttigieg declared.

What’s next: On an immediate basis, the Biden administration can tap into a few different emergency funds that can be deployed quickly. But Hill aides cautioned that it will likely take weeks to determine exact cost estimates. This would almost certainly require congressional action, likely in the form of a supplemental funding bill.

“Right now at the federal level, we’re actively exploring the use of ‘quick release’ emergency relief funds in partnership with Secretary Buttigieg and the urgent deployment of congressionally approved funding,” said Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), who sits on the Appropriations Committee.

It’s also worth noting that President Joe Biden asked Congress to plus-up two of these emergency funds as part of his domestic-focused supplemental funding request back in October.

One fund is controlled by the Federal Highway Administration. Buttigieg noted on Wednesday that the bipartisan infrastructure law authorized money for the agency’s emergency relief fund, which currently totals roughly $950 million. But as Buttigieg also said, the fund is used for projects nationwide.

The other fund is known as the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, which is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. These funds can be released when the president declares a disaster in a particular state or local jurisdiction.

The Maryland legislature is working on an economic relief package as well, although officials and state lawmakers haven’t said how much they’re going to spend in addressing the disaster.

— Andrew Desiderio and Jake Sherman

Presented by The Coalition to Project American Jobs

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