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www.ttnews.com, Eugene Mulero, June 9, 2020, 1:15 PM
A coalition that includes freight stakeholders and myriad transportation interests is calling on senators to advance legislation that would prioritize testing for critical infrastructure workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
American Trucking Associations is among the groups pushing for approval of the measure, which would direct federal authorities to also assist state agencies in facilitating access to personal protective equipment for certain infrastructure personnel assigned to the front lines during the health crisis.
“This type of investment in our frontline heroes is an investment in our nation’s long-term well-being because essential critical infrastructure workers are leading our nation’s response and recovery efforts on the ground,” ATA Chairman Randy Guillot said during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing June 3. Guillot is president of Louisiana-based Triple G Express Inc. and Southeastern Motor Freight.
“Keeping our frontline transportation workers healthy is how we ensure that grocery stores remain stocked, medical supplies remain available in urban and rural communities, and how we maintain critical infrastructure viability,” Guillot continued.
The freight rail industry added its voice in support for the measure.
Association of American Railroads CEO Ian Jefferies told senators at the same hearing that employees across the rail sector, as well as other essential critical infrastructure workers, “should be given elevated priority access to COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment, sanitizers, nonmedical-grade facial coverings and other health-related or protective supplies so that essential goods can keep moving.”
Alex Oehler, interim president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, added: “We are grateful for the joint efforts of federal, state and local agencies to date, and it is important that this coordination continues in the months to come as stay-at-home orders and similar restrictions are loosened, which could create a surge in demand for necessary supplies.”
Oehler continued, “Of course, patients, health care workers and first responders should always be first in line to receive this equipment.”
“Keeping our frontline transportation workers healthy is how we ensure that grocery stores remain stocked, medical supplies remain available in urban and rural communities, and how we maintain critical infrastructure viability.”
ATA Chairman Randy Guillot
The American Association of Port Authorities also expressed support for the legislation.
Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) led the bill’s introduction in May. The Critical Infrastructure Employees Protection Act would specifically require the U.S. Department of Transportation to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in supporting state agencies’ efforts of providing testing and equipment for the frontline infrastructure workforce. Besides prioritizing personal protective equipment, the workforce would have priority access to sanitizers, nonmedical-grade facial coverings and health-related or protective supplies.
“We are grateful for the many frontline workers who have shown remarkable resilience and resourcefulness to help deliver critical care, services and supplies to those in need,” Wicker told stakeholders at the June 3 hearing. The panel has jurisdiction over freight policy. “The transportation sector has countless numbers of these unsung heroes.”
Other Senate sponsors include Commerce Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), as well as Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The measure has yet to be scheduled for consideration.
A recent House-passed $3 trillion pandemic relief package included $15 billion for transportation agencies.
“As this unprecedented health and economic crisis continues to wreak havoc on workers, families and communities across our country, Congress must continue to step up with big, bold measures to blunt the worst of its effects,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said on May 15. “I’m especially focused on making sure the federal government helps protect frontline transportation workers and those who still must travel with clear and consistent policies on personal protective equipment that will help stop the spread of this insidious virus.”