How the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Is Improving Equality of Opportunity in the U.S.
Here's how the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act can provide greater equality of infrastructure access to underserved communities.
Air Date: January 25, 2022
Moderator: Rick Wade, Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach
Featured Guests: Ed Mortimer, Former Vice President, Transportation and Infrastructure
In November 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. The goal of this bipartisan bill is to create and rebuild infrastructure across America including roads, bridges, and public transportation systems. It also aims to give every American access to high-speed internet, addresses the climate crisis, and takes steps to invest in underserved communities.
At an Equality of Opportunity in Action event, Ed Mortimer, vice president of transportation and infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, shared insights on the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, including the opportunities the program provides for minority-owned businesses.
Advocacy from Minority Groups Played a Role in Getting the Bill Passed
The fact that a bill of this size and stature got passed is a “once-in-a-generation feat,” said Mortimer. He was quick to point out that without support from minority and underserved communities, it's very likely this bill would have died on the Senate floor.
“The head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Joyce Beatty, … [stood] up to a lot of folks who said ‘this can't get done, it's too complicated,” explained Mortimer. “She wouldn't take no for an answer.”
“We had members step up and step out of their comfort zone to get this bill done,” he continued. “And I want to recognize the fact that his bill would not have happened without men and women like them. So we need to make sure that the people they represent are building and modernizing this infrastructure.”
Access to Clean Water Is a Critical Issue in the United States
Mortimer noted that underserved communities are disproportionately lacking access to clean water. To improve and replace the existing water systems in the country, this new legislation will set aside a substantial amount of funding to ensure greater access for all Americans.
“This bill … provides a record amount of federal investment for these water projects at over $50 billion,” said Mortimer. “This legislation will make sure that all the lead pipes in this country are removed — a huge undertaking. It's going to take several years, but the investment is there to work with local governments [and] water agencies to make sure that every American has modern, clean water.”
The Federal Government Should Ensure Minority-Owned Companies Can Access Grants
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides many opportunities for communities and small businesses to get funding for infrastructure projects through competitive grant programs. Community leaders can create a plan and rally their neighbors, congressman, and federal officials to support the application and get the grant approved.
However, Mortimer stressed that the federal government has to work hard at finding minority-owned businesses in order to make sure they have equal access to these opportunities.
“When we talked to minority-owned companies, they say they don't know where the opportunities are [and] they feel like they're locked out of the process,” said Mortimer. “This has got to be a transparent, open, and competitive process, so that all companies big [and] small throughout our nation, are part of that effort. We're committed at the Chamber to make sure that actually happens, but it's a partnership at the federal, state, and local levels.”
“We are very excited because we think these [efforts] are going to create jobs,” added Mortimer. “You're building infrastructure that's going to last 50 to 75 years, but this program is going to take over 10 years, so these are long-term sustained jobs that can really help companies of all shapes and sizes.”