Bonamici talks workforce development, infrastructure needs
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici is pushing for federal funding to increase resources for small businesses throughout Columbia County.
Bonamici, who will see her district shrink when Oregon gets a sixth representative in Congress, recently spoke with the Spotlight about redistricting, workforce development, redistricting, potential community projects, childcare and more.
Bonamici represents Oregon's First Congressional District, which includes Washington, Yamhill, Clatsop and Columbia counties and part of Multnomah County.
This year, Bonamici and other lawmakers were able to submit community and transportation projects from their districts to potentially receive federal funding.
In Columbia County, Bonamici requested funding for a small business resource center operated by Columbia Economic Team (formerly Columbia County Economic Team) through a new community project funding process. Bonamici requested $175,000 to fund the first year of the resource center, which would provide advising and counseling, training, technical assistance, business outreach and more to businesses in Columbia County.
Bonamici also requested more than $33 million for nine transportation projects throughout the district, including a $1.6 million project to make pedestrian improvements along U.S. Highway 30 through Rainier.
The requests submitted by Bonamici and other representatives are still being evaluated, and few may ultimately receive funding.
Bonamici said the community and transportation project requests "are both new, somewhat complex processes" and that the timeline for projects being approved or denied isn't set in stone.
The business resource center "is a recognition that small businesses are a really important part of our economy," Bonamici said.
"Advocating for this request is going to help the county's close to 1,400 businesses, and many of those have 10 employees or fewer. So currently, there's no sort of similar resource for these businesses," the congresswoman explained. "I'm really excited about this project and see it as a valuable use of funding, because small businesses are such an important part of our economy."
Bonamici said the project proposal received support from city and county officials and local chamber leaders.
"It's important for Columbia County, it certainly would be important for other areas as well, but I was really impressed with the proposal that came in and the support from the chamber and commissioners and others," Bonamici said.
Key infrastructure needs
"Infrastructure" is a major buzzword in Washington, D.C., this year. President Joe Biden has been negotiating with key Republican senators for weeks in hopes of hammering out a bipartisan infrastructure package. The prospects of an agreement being reached remain unclear, but elected officials on both sides of the aisle are anxious to see Congress approve funding for projects throughout the country.
"I have always supported a definition of infrastructure that means more than just roads and bridges," Bonamici said.
She added, "Obviously, we have needs for roads and bridges, but we also (need) broadband. We've seen during the pandemic, for example, with people trying to work at home and with kids remote learning and telemedicine and all the things that were important during the pandemic and beyond, there's still a lot of gaps with broadband."
A member of the House Education & Labor Committee, Bonamici also pointed out that with public projects come job opportunities, and with job opportunities come the need for skills training.
"As we're looking at the proposals from the Biden administration and from Congress going forward, there's no question that these investments in transportation and infrastructure will create a lot of jobs," she said. "We need to make sure that we have the workforce to do the jobs. And so I have advocated for additional funding for workforce programs, whether that be through community colleges, workforce boards, or things like registered apprenticeships.
"We need to have the opportunity for people, and particularly people who have historically been left out of some of these great jobs in the trades ... to get the skills they need to participate in this rebuilding of our state and our country's infrastructure."
Right now, Bonamici — like many other members of the House — is in the odd position of not knowing which of her constituents will still be her constituents if she is elected to another term in 2022.
After each census, the state Legislature is charged with drawing up modified district boundaries for both the Oregon Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 2011, the Legislature was closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. Bonamici co-chaired a special joint committee that was set up to handle redistricting.
As many other state legislatures squabbled over how to draw district lines to the advantage of one party or another, the Oregon Legislature agreed on congressional and legislative maps through a bipartisan process. The state was held up nationally as an example of how both parties could work together to draw district lines considered to be fair and equitable.
Earlier this year, to get House Republicans to stop a series of delaying tactics they were using to slow down the legislative process, House Democrats agreed to make their redistricting committee a 50/50 bipartisan split between Democrats and Republicans, effectively giving up unilateral control over redistricting.
Also this spring, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that Oregon added enough population last decade relative to the national average that it will gain a sixth congressional seat, meaning the five current districts will have to shrink.
It's unclear at this point how those lines will be drawn. The Legislature is responsible for drawing them, but if it can't agree, the courts will have to take over the process.
Bonamici said that the current redistricting process is far different than the one she helped lead in 2011, because of the delays in receiving census data, and because Oregon is receiving an additional seat in the House.
"We're watching the process. Obviously, I think it's good for Oregon to have a sixth voice. It's helpful to have more representatives, that also means that our population has grown, because we've earned another seat," she said.
"The districts are drawn so that each district has the exact same number of people. And the district I represent has grown significantly," Bonamici added. "I will lose about 150,000 people from the district. Where they come from will be up to the Legislature, because they're drawing the maps."
Bonamici believes a larger congressional delegation could give Oregon more sway in the House.
"It's great for the state to have six voices instead of five, when we're helping our constituents and dealing with agencies. And then if there's a vote on issues, Oregon will have another voice," Bonamici said.
She added, "Maybe after we get the sixth seat, maybe I won't be the only woman in the delegation. But we'll see."
Bonamici serves on the House Education & Labor Committee, Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and Science, Space & Technology Committee.
Bonamici's PARTNERS Act, which she first introduced in 2017, was passed by the House earlier this year as part of the National Apprenticeship Act. The bill went to the Senate, but no action has been taken.
Bonamici said the PARTNERS Act was inspired by the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center in Scappoose.
"It's working with employers in the local area and identifying where the issues are where we need to have more people skilled up to do the work," Bonamici said. "Oftentimes, really large businesses could say, 'OK, we're going to just bring in a bunch of people and train them on the job.' But smaller businesses don't often have the opportunity to do that. So creating these industry or sector partnerships can help small and medium-sized businesses skill-up and scale-up their workforce."
Bonamici co-sponsored a related bill introduced in April that would create a federal grant program to fund partnerships between businesses and apprenticeship or other training programs.
Bonamici and Rep. Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican, introduced a bill late last month that would repeal a temporary rule allowing for full deductions of business meals — sometimes referred to as the "three-martini lunch deduction" — and redirect an estimated $5 billion in savings to support child care.
"Child care is an issue that was a challenge for families even before the pandemic, and then the pandemic has really highlighted why affordable, accessible child care is important. There's different proposals out there to make sure that people have affordable child care, because we aren't going to see a full economic recovery until we have child care," Bonamici said. "Rates of women in the workforce have gone way down, and a major part of that is because we absolutely need more affordable childcare. And when it's good-quality early childhood education, it is a very good investment."
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