PORT ANGELES — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer touted the American Rescue Plan and previewed a bill he is authoring to help economically distressed areas like the North Olympic Peninsula in a virtual homecoming last week.
Kilmer, a Gig Harbor Democrat who was raised in Port Angeles, told the Port Angeles City Council he planned to introduce a bipartisan bill that provides new grant funding to communities that have faced persistent challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Rebuilding Economies and Creating Opportunities for More People Everywhere To Excel — or RECOMPETE — Act would provide flexible, 10-year block grant funding to distressed communities, Kilmer said.
“In my view, when we work on a recovery package or an infrastructure package, it’s really important that it doesn’t just amplify existing inequities between communities that in some instances have enjoyed tremendous economic growth and others that haven’t,” Kilmer said in the July 6 council meeting.
“To me, we need to make sure that people have economic opportunity regardless of what ZIP code they live in, and so I’m going to be introducing that (bill) soon after this July 4 recess.”
Kilmer spokesman Andrew Wright said Monday the RECOMPETE Act would be introduced “hopefully by the end of the week.”
Kilmer, whose 6th Congressional District covers the Olympic Peninsula and much of the Kitsap Peninsula and Tacoma, said the federal government’s COVID-19 response should consider small communities like Port Angeles that do not have grant writers on staff.
“A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work,” Kilmer said.
“In the district I represent alone, there are communities for whom the primary issue is the need for workforce. Others need help with Brownfield cleanup (for hazardous waste).
“Some need broadband access, some have flooding issues like down in Grays Harbor, or housing issues,” Kilmer added.
“The challenges are diverse and different in every community.”
Kilmer said the American Rescue Plan Act, which he voted for, provided about $15 million for Clallam County and “a little north of $5.6 million” for the city of Port Angeles.
“That’s a big deal,” he said.
“Those dollars are flexible, as you likely know.”
Kilmer said the most important decision he made since the pandemic began was not a vote or policy position but a commitment to speak individually with constituents who had lost a job, business or loved one because of COVID-19.
“I will tell you all of these conversations — and I’m sure you’ve had many of them, too — were both heartbreaking but really motivating and kept my fires really burning bright to just keep pushing for the federal government to take action to help folks who are struggling,” Kilmer said.
The American Rescue Plan supported families and businesses and helped provide more than 300 million COVID-19 vaccinations, Kilmer said.
It also helped schools reopen, improved access to child care and expanded the child tax credit and earned income tax credit to reduce childhood poverty, Kilmer said.
“The American Rescue Plan also acknowledged, as I said at the start, that our city and county and state and tribal governments have really been on the front lines during this pandemic,” Kilmer said.
“They have borne in many instances additional costs, and rather than seeing those costs borne by taxpayers in PA, in my view the federal government ought to help out.”
Looking ahead, Kilmer said he would support the federal infrastructure plan put forth by President Joe Biden.
He cited a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers that graded U.S. infrastructure at a C-minus.
“If my kiddos had that on their report card, I would be disappointed,” said Kilmer, speaking from a home office near an original trilogy Star Wars poster.
“The American public should be disappointed by that and shouldn’t accept it.”
“The framework that President Biden has put forward doesn’t just focus on roads and bridges, but also expands to things like wastewater and drinking water, affordable housing infrastructure and broadband,” Kilmer added.
“I think those infrastructure investments can be really important both for putting people to work in the short term but also laying the foundation for economic growth over the long haul, and I’m very hopeful that you’ll see action in that regard.”
Members of Congress this year can advocate for specific projects through the appropriations process.
Kilmer said he was allowed to make 10 funding requests, three of which involve the North Olympic Peninsula.
Kilmer is seeking federal funds to move coastal Hoh and Quileute tribes to higher ground and $900,000 for the Port Angeles Food Bank to finalize the purchase of its building on Valley Street.
“On top of that, as part of the appropriations process, know that I will continue advocating for things that matter in our region, expanding broadband service, economic development and making sure that we’re making investments in education and health care, and particularly rural health care,” Kilmer told the council.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].