US Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., proposes a new New Deal to fix infrastructure, spur job growth

J.D. Prose, Beaver County Times//August 27, 2020

US Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., proposes a new New Deal to fix infrastructure, spur job growth

J.D. Prose, Beaver County Times//August 27, 2020

With the financial toll of COVID-19 still growing and an estimated 17 million Americans unemployed, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Wednesday called for Congress to approve a New Deal-style spending package to jumpstart the economy and improve the nation’s infrastructure.

“We’ve got a jobs crisis throughout the country and certainly in Pennsylvania,” said Casey, D-Scranton.

There are nearly 900,000 Pennsylvanians out of work, Casey said, and many southwestern Pennsylvania counties have not seen comparable unemployment numbers since the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s.

“We need federal help. No state government in any state, no local government, no county government, no private sector can do this on their own,” said Casey. “We need a substantial jobs plan.”

A spending program reminiscent of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration would help rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure, Casey said, from bridges and highways to the locks and dams on Pittsburgh area rivers that are vital to commercial shipping.

Asked if he envisioned the program fully funding repairs to the aging locks and dams dotting the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers in western Pennsylvania, Casey said he wants the bill “to be as broad and as wide-ranging as possible” and that the locks and dams “would be part of that.”

Jobs created by the program should be unionized and offer a minimum wage of $15 per hour, Casey said.

Pittsburgh resident Marvin Williams, a member of Heavy Construction Carpenters Local 441, said he has found a career, not just a job, that he wants to use to help his family and others in his community, but the economy threatens those plans.

“We need the funding,” Williams said. “We need the jobs.”

Rich Barcaskey, the executive director of the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania, which represents more than 200 companies in 33 counties, said the pandemic has had a “dramatic effect on transportation funding” with PennDOT anticipating $800 million in cuts to projects.

In PennDOT’s District 11, which covers Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, there is expected to be $200 million less for projects from 2021 to 2024, Barcaskey said.

Ultimately, Barcaskey said, the shortfall will force PennDOT and other state transportation departments “to choose, quite frankly, between which roadways will be improved.”

Casey urged the Republican-controlled Senate to return to session to address U.S. Postal Service funding, jobs and infrastructure.

His revamped New Deal proposal would offer flexibility for regions to respond to local needs, Casey said, adding that a program done to its full extent could employ up to 40 percent of those Americans not working.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was challenged with steering the country through economic calamity, he did not “sit around” and do nothing, said Casey. “He acted, and I think that’s what we’re going to need in the coming months,” Casey said.