NMMA Says What to Expect from Congress this Summer

As COVID-19 gripped the country and world in the first half of 2020, the U.S. Congress hit pause on most of its previously scheduled work to focus almost entirely on the global pandemic.

Now, with stay-at-home orders continuing to be lifted and sectors of the economy resuming operations, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are shifting some of their attention to measures that were shelved earlier this year, but also play a role in economic recovery.

In the next two months, Congress is expected to consider several items that are critically important to the recreational boating industry, including boating access and conservation initiatives. There is also growing interest in another round of COVID-19 related economic relief. Here is a breakdown of what Congress is likely to address before the August summer recess:

Great American Outdoors Act

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) addresses two long-standing priorities of the recreational boating community. First, it fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund – a go-to program for conserving and maximizing boating and outdoor recreation access. Second, the bill tackles the maintenance backlog on our public lands and waters by investing in boating infrastructure like docks, ramps, and parking facilities.

On June 8, 2020, the GAOA cleared an important procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate, setting up a final vote on the measure early next week. Late last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives – led by recreational boating community champion, Congressman Joe Cunningham (D-SC-01) – introduced companion legislation, which is expected to receive a vote in late June or early July. President Trump has indicated that he will sign the bill into law.

Water Resources Development Act

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is biannual legislation that authorizes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) civilian water infrastructure projects – such as improving navigation, reducing flood risk, and restoring aquatic ecosystems – and directs the agency’s practices.

Securing the recreational boating industry’s priorities in WRDA will expand boating access and opportunities across the country and help communities that rely on the economic contributions of boating better recover from COVID-19. Chief among the industry’s priorities in WRDA is inclusion of the bipartisan Safer Harbors for Our Recreation Economy (SHORE) Act – a measure requiring USACE and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to account for recreation-based economic impacts when determining which projects to approve. The SHORE Act will help ensure small and emerging harbors that support recreation activity receive appropriate funding.

On May 6, 2020, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved its version of WRDA. Additionally, the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to release its version of the bill in late July. While Congress is required to reauthorize WRDA by the end of 2020, there is growing support among lawmakers to pass the measure before the August recess.

Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act

The Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act is the primary measure for authorizing and funding traditional infrastructure projects, including building and modernizing airports, bridges, and roads.

While these initiatives are important to the recreational boating industry, the FAST Act is also the legislative vehicle responsible for reauthorizing the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund (Trust Fund) – a voluntary, user fee system created by recreational boaters and anglers in 1950 to pay for critical conservation programs and recreational boating infrastructure projects in all 50 states. Today, the Trust Fund collects $650 million each year – most of which comes from the boating and fishing community – and is the largest source of funding for marine conservation.

The Trust Fund is set to expire at the end of 2020. However, there is strong bipartisan support in Congress for reauthorizing the Trust Fund through 2024 this summer as part of the FAST Act or a fourth COVID-19 economic relief package.

COVID-19 Economic Relief

Following the manufactured shutdown of the economy to curb the spread of COVID-19, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. passed three economic assistance measures to help the country weather the storm.

Even with many parts of the country and economy reopening, there is growing consensus among some in Congress that a fourth economic relief bill will be required to prevent long term financial hardship.

While the recreational boating industry has benefited from the initial rounds of COVID-19 assistance, NMMA is working closely with lawmakers to ensure additional industry needs are addressed in the next economic relief package, including providing financial support for small- and medium-sized businesses, delivering assistance to state and local government, and investing in recreational infrastructure.

Congress is not expected to advance a fourth COVID-19 economic relief measure until after the Fourth of July.

For more information, please contact NMMA senior vice president of government and legal affairs, Nicole Vasilaros at nvasilaros@nmma.org, NMMA director of federal government relations, Callie Hoyt at choyt@nmma.org, or NMMA director of federal government relations, Clay Crabtree at ccrabtree@nmma.org.