CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 2651 on Wednesday, October 14, 2009, under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. H.R. 2651 was introduced on June 2, 2009, by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which held a mark-up and reported the bill, by voice vote, on June 4, 2009.
H.R. 2651 would authorize $110 million over five years to create two new federal programs to encourage people to study at maritime training institutions. The bill would create a new federal loan guarantee program called the Maritime Career Training Loan Program and a new federal grant program known as the Maritime Grant Program. H.R. 2651 would authorize $11 million for each program annually over the FY 2010 through FY 2015 period.
Maritime Career Training Loan Program: H.R. 2651 would require the Secretary of Transportation, acting through the Administrator of the Maritime Administration, to establish the Maritime Career Training Loan Program. The Secretary would be required to allocate the award of loans, develop the application process, approve applications, and designate which maritime training institutions would be eligible to participate in the loan program.
The Secretary would be authorized to provide loans for federal, State, and commercial training institutions and nonprofit training organizations. The Secretary would also be required to select institutions based on geography and ensure that institutions could administer the program for Coast-Guard approved training. The Secretary would have the authority to exclude deficient programs. Loans for the six State Maritime Academies (California, Maine, Massachusetts, Great Lakes, Texas, and New York) could not receive more than 50 percent of the total loans. In addition, the Secretary would be prohibited from providing loans under the program for undergraduate students at the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
H.R. 2651 would provide loans of up to $15,000 annually, not to exceed a total amount of $60,000 for eligible students. Interest rates on the loans would vary from 3.4 percent to 5.6 percent depending on when the first disbursement is made. The Secretary could require any student who has defaulted to pay all collection costs and repay the loan on an income dependent payment plan.
The bill would authorize $10 million in loan payments annually from FY 2010-2015 for loan payments and $1 million annually over the same period for administrative costs.
Maritime Recruitment, Training, and Retention Grant Program: H.R. 2651 requires the Secretary, acting through the Administrator of the Maritime Administration, to publish a report describing demonstration project priorities for merchant mariner recruitment, training, and retention. The bill then authorizes the Secretary to award grants to maritime training institutions for demonstration projects that implement the goals of the Secretary's plan.
Eligible projects under the legislation include projects that establish maritime technology skills, provide maritime training, promote maritime distance learning, assist in maritime recruitment, and establish national and regional maritime training partnerships. The bill would require that grants be awarded on a competitive basis established by the Secretary.
The bill would authorize $10 million annually from FY 2010-2015 to provide the demonstration grants and an additional $1 million annually over the same period for administrative costs.
According to House Report 111-243, foreign trade comprised 22 percent of GDP in 2006 and could potentially comprise up to 34 percent of GDP by 2020. The Maritime Administration reported in 2007 that the marine transportation system in the U.S. supported up to 13 million jobs. In addition, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics stated that in 2006 there were 162,000 jobs in the U.S. water transportation, an increase from 148,000 jobs in 2004. In 2007, the Coast Guard reported that the average age of a merchant mariner with a Master's license was 51 and that the average age of a Chief Engineer was 50. Though U.S. exports continued to grow by 15 percent in 2008, the Committee Report states that "When the U.S. water transportation sector resumes its growth, the industry may face a labor shortage--particularly in on-the-water jobs--that could leave the United States without the workforce it needs to meet the demands that renewed growth in the maritime industry will create."
H.R. 2651 seeks to support the maritime workforce by offering new federal subsidies to students who wish to pursue a maritime career. While some Members may wish to offer additional federal assistance to maritime students, others may be concerned that maritime students are already eligible for other federal assistance, such as Pell grants, Stafford loans, and Perkins loans. Some Members may view H.R. 2651 as a special federal benefit for one particular group of students that are already eligible for other financial assistance.
According to CBO, H.R. 2651 would "cost about $90 million over the 2010-2014 period."