Congress is looking at ways to help the maritime industry weather national emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic as well as natural disasters.

A bill was introduced July 9 that would extend to the industry the same protections and relief given to other industries during the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Peter De Fazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said the legislation would “close a huge gap in current federal emergency assistance that has left links in the maritime supply chain isolated and unable to access other assistance programs available to other industries.”

Introduced by DeFazio and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, the bill would set up a maritime emergency relief authority that would enable the Maritime Administration to provide financial assistance to ensure the smooth running of the maritime supply chain during a national emergency.

It would be designed to help eligible state entities and maritime supply chain players involved in vessel construction, water transportation or other support roles such as harbor pilots, assist tugs or stevedores.

Marad would be authorized to provide grant assistance to pay for repairing or replacing equipment, facilities and shore infrastructure that have suffered serious damage during disasters like floods and hurricanes.

Marad would also be authorized to reimburse or provide aid to cover the operating and overhead costs involved in emergency response operations, cleaning, sanitation, janitorial services, staffing workforce retention, paid leave and procuring protective health equipment and training for employees and contractors, during or after an emergency.

“The men and women who work within the Maritime Transportation System are a part of our nation’s essential workforce that has been key to keeping critical goods moving during the global pandemic, and for that, we owe them a debt of gratitude,” DeFazio said in a statement. “But our thanks are not enough. We must also ensure that stakeholders across our maritime industry have the resources and equipment they need to keep the global supply chain moving and stay safe while doing so.”

The legislation follows a May 29 hearing at which officials of the maritime community discussed the unprecedented challenges they face keeping the maritime supply chain operating during the global pandemic. All witnesses said they would welcome assistance targeted to their needs.

Many maritime businesses have taken advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program and some small business loans available through the CARES Act, but there were no specific provisions in the Act to address the maritime sector. Congress is now mulling a second national stimulus program, which is expected to be smaller in scope than the first.

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.