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Port of Baltimore and other seaports taking economic hit because of coronavirus | COMMENTARY

Trucks carry containers from the Evergreen Triton at the Port of Baltimore.
Trucks carry containers from the Evergreen Triton at the Port of Baltimore. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

As Congress works to help airports, transit systems and other transportation services impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the Port of Baltimore and the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) believe it’s crucial that seaports also receive resources necessary to deal with the unprecedented financial, personnel, infrastructure and supply challenges imposed by the COVID-19 emergency.

The men and women who work at the Port of Baltimore, and other employees at seaports across America, have played a critical role in our nation’s COVID-19 response. Each day, the supply chains maintained in Baltimore and other seaports ensure that needed goods get to local health care facilities, pharmacies and grocery stores, and to the doorsteps of millions of Americans who are safely working from home.

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AAPA projects that without federal relief, direct job losses at America’s seaports could be about 130,000 by the end of this year due to the pandemic. That’s 20% of America’s direct maritime workforce which, at full employment, supports an additional 30 million jobs nationwide. Many large U.S. ports will experience annual cargo volume declines ranging from 10% to 30% percent for 2020, while smaller ports may experience much sharper declines.

Those impacts are felt well beyond the ports. In 2018, cargo activities at America’s seaports generated $5.4 trillion, representing a quarter of the U.S. economy. Cargo revenues created $378 billion in federal, state and local taxes. Additionally, America’s tourism ports, including the Port of Baltimore cruise terminal, attracted 13 million international cruise-goers, whose spending created $53 billion in business revenue nationwide and generated wages, salaries and taxes exceeding $23 billion. Baltimore’s cruise terminal alone welcomed more than 224,000 passengers in 2019.

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Last year, the Port of Baltimore handled a record 43.6 million tons of cargo, including more than a record 11 million tons of general cargo at the state-owned public marine terminals. Baltimore ranks first among the nation’s ports for volume of autos and light trucks, roll on/roll off heavy farm and construction machinery, and imported gypsum. Baltimore also handled a record number of containers last year.

The Port of Baltimore generates about 15,330 direct jobs, with nearly 140,000 jobs overall linked to port activities and the port generates nearly $400 million annually in state and local tax revenues.

While its cargo volumes are not down as much as some other U.S. ports, the Port of Baltimore, like all ports, is feeling the impacts of COVID-19. Through April at the state-owned public marine terminals, general cargo was down 7%, containers were down 6%, and cars and light trucks were down 22%. All those categories had record years in 2019.

While we are confident the Port of Baltimore will bounce back, it will take some time until the international maritime trade industry recovers.

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America’s seaports need federal assistance to help with significant cargo and passenger declines and added costs for cleaning, sanitation, personal protective equipment and related supplies. This isn’t about replacing lost revenue. It’s about maintaining a “state of readiness” to make good on bond and other debt payments, and keep our workforce employed to the fullest extent possible for the key role ports will play in America’s recovery.

To aid the seaport industry’s coronavirus response and recovery efforts, AAPA and the Port of Baltimore are urging Congress to provide $1.5 billion in direct grants to help ports cover operations, equipment and infrastructure costs, and debt service expenses.

We also urge Congress to support $1 billion in supplemental funding to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Port and Intermodal Improvement Program as part of the next COVID-19 response legislation. This funding would ensure continued investment in our nation's port infrastructure and the ability of our ports to efficiently and safely maintain supply chains. In addition, we ask that future aid packages be available to local authorities of any size, including ports.

Policymakers cannot overlook the impact this pandemic has had on our nation’s ports. Please support our request to Congress for relief from the shocks imposed by this crisis. These resources will help us sustain and create future jobs, and ensure that the Port of Baltimore and seaports across the country have the capability to power America’s recovery.

Gregory Slater (secretary@mdot.state.md.us) is secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, David Thomas (dthomas@marylandports.com) is acting executive director of MDOT Maryland Port Administration and Christopher J. Connor (Cconnor@aapa-ports.org) is president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities.

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