As we look to 2015, I am both optimistic and resolved to bear down and help address the local economic challenges we face in the Lehigh Valley.
We have been tested by an inconsistently recovering economy, but, in 2014, I supported and tracked approximately $75 million in federal grants and contracts to the 17th Congressional District. I want to increase the awareness of funding opportunities and resources, as well as increase public support for discretionary competitive grants, guaranteed loans and other federal economic seed money.
For example, in 2014, the Department of Homeland Security distributed $306 billion of Assistance to Firefighters grants nationally to help firefighters and other first responders obtain equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training, and other resources necessary to protect the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards. A recent award of $102,600 to the Mount Bethel Volunteer Fire Company will enable it to purchase much-needed, self-contained breathing apparatus units. I will help more fire companies and other eligible first responders in the region apply in 2015.
Two notable Department of Justice programs are Community Oriented Policing Services hiring grants, which provide to eligible law enforcement agencies up to 75 percent of the approved entry-level salaries and fringe benefits of full-time police officers for a 36-month period, and Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grants, which assist state and local initiatives to prevent or reduce crime. In 2014, slightly more than $54,000 came to the 17th District to purchase police cruisers and increase police presence in areas either with high rates of crime or that are frequented by children.
I also want to take full advantage of the Our Town grant program through National Endowment for the Arts. This program is based on the premise that works of art often go hand-in-hand with job opportunity and economic success. The grants require municipalities and nonprofits to work together to use the arts to enhance public spaces and/or creative entrepreneurship.
On the business side, when any local business expands, it means more direct jobs and more income along the supply chain, which ideally is also within the region.
We are fortunate in the Lehigh Valley to have a large cast of players generating growth in targeted industries, like life sciences and health care, food and beverage production, high-performance manufacturing and high-value business services. One of my main goals is to bring people together in a way that will foster connections and growth opportunities. In 2014, I created a series of videos to attract new businesses, new residents, and tourists to the 17th District. Our proximity to other markets, ease of access through our highways and airports, great schools and top-notch medical facilities make this region easy to promote and ripe for further growth.
During 2013 and 2014, I introduced and supported a number of education-related policy proposals to make college more affordable and to close the skills gap. I also held round-table discussions with leaders of institutions of higher learning and their students which reinforced my desire to keep student loan interest rates low.
I will work with my colleagues in Congress to invest in our nation’s infrastructure. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, signed into law in 2012, was the first long-term highway authorization bill since 2005 and Congress will need to reauthorize the bill in May 2015. I plan to push for longer-term solutions that expand highways, build new bridges, increase transit options, support bicycle use, make urban areas more walkable, increase access to recreation, expand passenger rail, and lower carbon emissions for years to come.
The House, Senate and White House composition for 2015 does open the door for gridlock, but what’s at stake economically is too important to let political disagreement and rivalry prevent progress. The need for economic opportunity and prosperity is not in dispute. I plan to remind my colleagues in Washington of that fact as often as possible.