Politics of Poverty

Jobs, jobs, and more jobs!

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Economic recovery in the Gulf Coast

Seems like all anyone is talking about these days is jobs. Do we spend to create them, or do we cut taxes so that others can? Well, the good news is that there is at least one bill out there that could create thousands of jobs in the Gulf Coast, particularly in coastal communities that were hit hard by the BP oil spill, and not spend one additional dollar of tax payer monies. The RESTORE Act (pdf), introduced by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and co-sponsored by several Senators in the Gulf delegation, is a truly bi-partisan bill. It would send 80% of fines from the oil spill, as much as $21 billion, back to the Gulf for coastal restoration projects and that would also help to bring back the economies and communities that were most impacted by the spill. On Wednesday, a companion bill was introduced by Rep. Steve Scalise and a group of Republican and Democratic members in the Gulf.

A woman fishing in the Gulf Coast. Photo by Audra Melton.
A woman fishing in the Gulf Coast. Photo by Audra Melton.

The RESTORE Act could be used for wetland reconstruction, rebuilding depleted oyster beds, and building barrier islands. These natural resources are not only vital to protecting coastal communities in the face of the next Katrina-like storm but will allow these communities to be more economically resilient as well. The Gulf region is home to a $23 billion fishing industry—fisher families depend on the Gulf’s natural resources in supporting their families.

Walking through New Orleans, the impact of the Gulf’s natural resources is everywhere–restaurants advertising their local seafood dishes, or tourist operators luring visitors to take a boat ride through the Bayou. In Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi, beach-lovers bring much needed dollars to hotels. The oil spill created havoc for small businessmen across the region; the RESTORE Act brings back the dollars to the communities that suffered the biggest environmental disaster our country has seen.

As Oxfam’s report, Beyond Recovery outlined, the best part, though, is that these projects will accelerate the growth of a new industry across the Gulf Coast, employing thousands through companies like Weeks Marine, The Shaw Group, Atkins, and the Louisiana firm, Royal Engineering, which has seen its company size triple as a result of projects like those that the RESTORE Act could fund. These engineering and dredging companies will hire workers at all skill levels for these projects including engineers and scientists, but also welders, boat and heavy equipment operators, and deck hands to name a few. This is an opportunity to have real impact for working families along the coast by providing a real pathway to long term good paying jobs, all the while making their communities safer when the next storm hits.

The RESTORE Act has it all: job creation with no added cost to tax payers. Congress should be all over that one.

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