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Cape Cod, Islands, Southcoast Congressional Rep talks infrastructure packages, social safety net

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President Joe Biden recently signed a 1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure package, the largest federal bill earmarked for infrastructure in decades.

Congressman Bill Keating says this is the most important bill that he's voted on during his decade-long tenure as the representative to the Cape, Coast and Islands.

CAI's Sam Houghton spoke with Congressman Keating about the details.

SH Let's start with the big one here: bridges. The replacement of the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges has been estimated to cost about a billion dollars, with another billion dollars for realigning the roads. How much funding from this bill will go to that project, and do we know that specifically?

Congressman Keating First off, the bridges, the Bourne and Sagamore, are in a unique, if not stand alone position in our country. They are actually owned by the federal government. They're required by statute, actually, to be maintained. So the tools for funding are in place now, totaling over $40 billion to tap into. That portion of the whole project that deals with funding this, the tools are in place to go forward with that.

People are always asking, 'When?' What I use for a time frame is this: the Army Corps of Engineers in their last study, came out with the fact that in five years, these bridges would have to be shut down to be repaired, and that repair would cost more than replacing them. So we're looking at a five year timeframe, according to their own report, where we have to move forward to avoid that kind of shutdown.

SH And I also understand that because these are evacuation routes, they get specific designation for funding. Is that accurate?

Congressman Keating Well, it's one more priority factor that's involved. But frankly, the fact that they're owned by the federal government, it's required to be done, is essential as well. So we're in a great spot now for the funding aspect of this. The funds are there. Now we'll continue on with the engineering, with the environmental review. And importantly, as someone that lives in Bourne, talking to the community and making sure the community interests are all listened to and taken into consideration.

SH Now back to this infrastructure bill. It isn't just bridges. There's funding for water projects, broadband infrastructure... What might locals see this money going to, aside from those bridges? And maybe more importantly, when could we start to see that?

Congressman Keating Well, I'll tell you this. The thing that's in there that is so critical for Cape Cod and the Islands is coastal resiliency money. We've been fighting climate change for some time, and it's getting worse, as everyone that lives here knows. And there's money there for mitigation to make sure that we're trying to prevent erosion; adaptation money, so that we're able to move forward with infrastructure to make sure that's involved as well; and dealing with important environmental [issues] that have to be addressed in terms of water. That kind of mitigation for the estuaries, dredging, dealing with flooding... Those are all things that will be benefited. And that's a big issue for the Cape.

Of course, you know, there are other bridges, secondary bridges and there are roads that have to be repaired as well.

SH And one thing, you were mentioning that this is kind of a reaction to climate change — we want to make sure our infrastructure is up to grade for flooding. But another bill that was passed by the House recently, the "Build Back Better" plan, that would actually put money in place to address climate change and reduce fossil fuels. Talk about this bill. I mean, it still has an uncertain future in the Senate. But what could locals here see from that?

Congressman Keating People from Washington say it's the "Build Back Better" bill, and it sounds like a fitness program. I just tell people, this is about helping middle class families move forward, more than anything else. Middle class families have been dealing with strains from all fronts, particularly families that have children, and this will include a tax cut for families with children that's due to run out on December 15th.

That has moved more children in this country already out of poverty than any one act of the federal government. It includes pre-kindergarten so that people aren't left behind. I know, Head Start in our region, there's not enough funding to go forward with that, and children are being left behind.

Also, this money's there to make childcare more accessible and affordable, something that's holding people, particularly women, back from the workforce.

At the other end of the spectrum, there's money for home care because it's very difficult here to find adequate places in assisted living for our older Americans. This will keep people in their homes, and there'll be money there to help with that. And we have a large number of people dealing with diabetes. This limits the insulin payments to thirty-five dollars a month.

All these things will be dramatically impacted by this. In fact, the effect this will have on children and middle class families is probably more dramatic than any one thing that the federal government has done. You'd have to look back to Social Security historically to see something that had this kind of effect on families.

It also includes a forward-looking infrastructure view, as you mentioned, with climate change. So it's dealing with the adaptation we have to do to adjust to climate change factors that we're all living with here in the Cape and Islands, as well as the mitigation that's necessary, including more money for those coastal resiliency programs that are necessary. We're going to see the combination disproportionately help the people here in Cape Cod and the islands.

SH Republicans have attacked this saying, you know, 'look at our inflation rates now,' and they're saying this is too much spending. What's your reaction to that?

Congressman Keating Well, the fact is, there were tax changes imposed on this, none of them affecting anyone making under $400,000 a year. This is almost all paid for. It depends which economists you talk to, whether it's fully paid for or not. It's very close by, even the most skeptical economic experts.

So this will not be the factor that deals with inflation. In fact, the people that have looked at this over a period of the next several years maintain that this will actually reduce inflation because you're getting more people into the workforce, because you're empowering people to be self-reliant, whether they be older Americans or families trying to help their children. So this has the impact of actually reducing inflationary impact over the next several years.

SH OK, that is Congressman Bill Keating, the representative for the Cape, Coast and Islands. Happy holidays, congressman.

Congressman Keating Happy holidays, Sam. And all the best to you and your listeners.