MASSENA — The $1.5 million in aid money set aside for the Seaway International Bridge in the latest round of federal COVID-19 aid legislation has been scrapped, reportedly because Rep. Elise M. Stefanik didn’t advocate for its inclusion.
While the House passed a version of the bill that included the money in late February, the Senate is still workshopping its version. On Tuesday, it was announced the Senate version would not include the bridge funding.
The $1.5 million was meant to make up for revenue losses caused by a steep drop in paid car and truck travel across the bridge because of the ongoing U.S.-Canada border crossing restrictions.
Multiple media outlets, including The Hill, have reported that Senate sources confirmed the Seaway Bridge’s funding was dropped in the Senate bill because Rep. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, refused to advocate for its inclusion.
Rep. Stefanik voted against the House bill last month, along with every other House Republican.
Karoline Leavitt, spokesperson for the congresswoman, said Wednesday that the bill was wholly unacceptable and included far too much spending unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic.
“(Rep. Stefanik’s) steadfast support of the north country’s critical infrastructure does not change the unacceptable fact that only 9% of funding in Speaker (Nancy P.) Pelosi and President (Joseph R.) Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan goes towards public health measures,” she said in an email statement.
She said Rep. Stefanik also took issue with the proposal that would grant stimulus checks to undocumented immigrants and another measure in the aid bill that would establish a $15 minimum wage. Ms. Leavitt said the congresswoman also disapproves of the fact that the aid package contains no funding for workforce training.
She said the congresswoman has already secured more than $75 million in federal funding for the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, which oversees the Seaway International Bridge Corporation, and $6 million in funding for the bridge itself.
Overall, Ms. Leavitt said that more than $100 million for a transportation project in California, compared to a mere $1.5 million for the Seaway International Bridge, is a “bad, bad deal.”
“It’s an embarrassment that Senators (Charles E.) Schumer and (Kirsten E.) Gillibrand would allow the north country to be used as a desperate political pawn by Nancy Pelosi to jam through her $1.9 trillion bill,” she said.
Republican leaders have focused on the bridge money intensely, alongside another $100 million earmarked for a transportation project in California, in their campaign against the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act announced by President Joseph R. Biden.
They have said the two earmarks are examples of innumerable places in the aid legislation where Democratic lawmakers attempted to use their newfound leadership positions in Washington, D.C., to secure money for their constituents.
“We watched the swamp come back to Washington,” House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said during a news conference last week. “One hundred million for a tunnel in Silicon Valley, just outside of Speaker Pelosi’s district, or a bridge for Schumer.”
The money was actually first requested by former Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao and the Donald Trump administration to make up for the nearly $170,000-per-month losses the toll bridge had experienced as car and truck travel across the U.S.-Canada border remains restricted.
Bridge officials told the Times in late February that the funding was needed to prevent an “adverse impact to vehicular traffic.” They said the money would come from a trust fund that takes money from shipping companies and disburses it for maintenance of transportation infrastructure, and would cover some of the costs of operation between April 1 and Sept. 30.
Officials for the Seaway International Bridge Corporation, which oversees the bridge on behalf of the U.S. and Canadian governments, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.