Biden Administration Moves to Free Up Millions to Improve Ports Amid Supply Chain Woes

The Biden administration announced new plans Tuesday to earmark and potentially pay to upgrade congested and aging U.S. ports in the next 90 days, the Associated Press reported. The move is aimed at helping to suppress potential inflation for products as ships are forced to wait to dock at ports and truck drivers who can transport goods remain in short supply.

The Transportation Department will permit port authorities to allot any money leftover from grant projects to help remedy the supply chain woes, according to senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Georgia Port Authority, for example, can use $8 million to transform its inland facilities into container yards, which would open up more space for ships to dock at the port and ultimately expedite the journey for goods to their intended destinations, the AP reported.

Supply chain issues have added an extra obstacle to economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. Price inflation and the possibility of low or nonexistent stock in stores has frustrated many Americans and struck a political blow against President Joe Biden and other Democrats.

But the administration's initiative may only address one kink on the supply chain. A report released by the American Trucking Associations last month estimated that the industry lacks 80,000 drivers, a shortage exacerbated by the pandemic. This number is an all-time high for the industry, the report said.

"Increased demand for freight, pandemic-related challenges from early retirements, closed driving schools and DMVs, and other pressures are really pushing up demand for drives and subsequently the shortage," said Bob Costello, chief economist for the association.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

U.S. Supply Chain Woes
The Biden administration announced new plans Tuesday to earmark and potentially pay to upgrade congested and aging U.S. ports in the next 90 days. A truck passes a container ship at the Port of Oakland on October 19 in Oakland, California. Noah Berger/AP Photo

The Biden administration's initiative comes on the heels of the House passing a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package late Friday. The package includes $17 billion to improve coastal and land-based ports that can help to tackle the challenges in the longer term.

Biden will highlight the administration's efforts by visiting Baltimore's port on Wednesday. It's part of a broader effort to show that the administration will tackle the inflation that has left Americans feeling more pessimistic about the economy. Updated figures for the consumer price index will be released Wednesday, with the previous report showing prices were 5.4 percent higher than a year ago.

The Baltimore trip is designed to highlight the types of investments that the administration believes will help unclog the supply chain. The port in Baltimore is adding container cranes and adding a 50-foot berth where ships can be unloaded. The administration has also approved grants so that the Howard Street Tunnel—a train artery that opened in 1895—can be expanded to ferry double-stacked containers on railcars.

The Biden administration earlier helped broker an agreement to increase the hours of operation at the Port of Los Angeles, but it's been difficult to immediately fix this challenge. Administration officials said the initiatives being announced Tuesday would make the supply chain faster, more efficient and environmentally friendly in the medium to longer term.

Additional steps include launching a $240 million grant program in the next 45 days to modernize ports and marine highways. Within 60 days, the government wants to identify repair projects and opportunities to deepen harbors for larger ships that can be a guide for more than $4 billion in construction by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The government will also look over the next 90 days at which ports of entry should be upgraded and expanded as part of a $3.4 billion investment. It also plans within 90 days to open the first round of more than $475 million in grants for ports made possible through the newly passed infrastructure package.

The Transportation Department intends to publish a playbook for states on freight movement and issue guidance on best practices so that the value of the infrastructure investments can be maximized. There will also be a request for information by the Transportation Department to improve data collection and sharing to improve the efficiency and transparency of the supply chain.

Biden Administration Supply Chain Initiative
The Transportation Department will permit port authorities to allot any money leftover from grant projects to help address the supply chain woes that could cause inflation and product shortages. The Box Express cargo ship crosses the San Francisco Bay on October 19 in San Francisco. Noah Berger/AP Photo