Chairman Cartwright Statement at the Oversight of the Economic Development Administration's Role in Pandemic Response Hearing

2021-04-21 10:09

Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's Hearing on Oversight of the Economic Development Administration's Role in Pandemic Response ​:

Good morning, and welcome to today’s hearing on the Economic Development Administration’s, or EDA’s, role in the response to the pandemic. 

With us today we have the acting head of EDA, the acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, Mr. Dennis Alvord.  Thank you for being with us today, Mr. Alvord.

As the only Federal agency dedicated exclusively to economic development, EDA has a critical role in responding to the economic crisis that has been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In 2020, GDP fell by 3.5% nationwide, and by 4.4% in my home Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  And while we’re already seeing the signs of a strong recovery, the pandemic has clearly demonstrated the inequity in our economic system. 

The unemployment rate for those with a college degree is only 3.7%, whereas it’s 8.2% for those without a high school diploma.  The overall unemployment number is back down to 6.0% which doesn’t sound so terrible, except when you note that nearly 4.7 million Americans have taken themselves out of the labor market since last year.

In so many ways, it’s not just these immediate impacts of the pandemic that I’m so concerned about.  If anything, this virus has merely highlighted just how increasingly unfair our system had become prior to the last year.   

Our economy is evolving rapidly, and when that means new smartphones and Netflix, it’s great.  But I worry about what it means for everyday Americans.  

I think about towns like Carbondale in my district in Pennsylvania.  During the boom of the anthracite coal industry, Carbondale had been a “company” town that had boomed right along with it.  But when the coal industry packed up and walked away from the City of Carbondale, they left an environmentally scarred landscape and an economy that has never come close to recovering. 

If a fire started in town, entire blocks would burn down for lack of capacity to respond.  The housing the coal and rail companies had built for their workers were not built to last and needed serious investments and upgrades almost immediately. 

Furthermore, underground mine fires burned in multiple locations throughout the city.  Those fires have smoldered into the 21st century with the Bureau of Abandoned Mines putting two more out within the past five years. 

The road back for the City of Carbondale has been a long, difficult, tedious, and uphill battle with fits and starts of success, as local leaders have struggled to revitalize the core business district and build permanent assets to shore up the community and the local economy.

When I think about what EDA can do for people, I think about the struggle that Carbondale has endured and what it still needs.  And I worry about all of these other communities that are also struggling—whether it’s due to the pandemic or other changing economic circumstances in their towns, often completely outside their control.

We can do more to make sure that communities all across America not only recover from the pandemic, but have real economic vitality.  It is a smart investment in our people and our country that will pay huge dividends over time.

I was proud to help write the American Rescue Plan Act that provided an additional $3 billion for EDA to help communities respond to the economic fallout of the pandemic.  I’m excited to hear from our witness today about our progress in overcoming the immediate hardships brought on by COVID, and also about how we’re investing in long-term strategies to support good jobs for all Americans.

117th Congress