The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is a public health crisis which will have a lasting impact on our local economy for years to come.
While Congress has approved a series of bipartisan packages to deliver aid to our community — including $7.5 million in funding for SUNY Oswego, $1.9 million for Oswego Health, support for small businesses, and economic impact payments for families — I recognize that there remain unique economic challenges for Oswego.
As Oswego County’s representative on the federal level, I’ve been working alongside state and local leaders to advocate for increased support for our local governments, law enforcement and first responders, and our hospitals in any future COVID-19 relief packages that come before Congress. I’m also fighting to support the pillars of the Oswego economy, including the Port of Oswego Authority and our farmers and growers. And, I have continued to pay close attention to issues that have long plagued our region and impacted our economy, like flooding along Lake Ontario.
The Port of Oswego has long been an economic driver not only for Oswego County, but for our entire region. Serving as the first U.S. port of call and deepwater port on the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence Seaway, nearly 120 vessels and more than one million tons of cargo pass through the Port of Oswego each year. The port also plays a critical role in supporting manufacturers and agricultural producers across central New York by ensuring market access for domestic and international shipping. But COVID-19 has caused significant disruptions to our global supply chain, and ports nationwide are adjusting to slowed production and decreased shipping activity.
These uncertain conditions have drastically increased financial strains on port operations throughout the U.S., including the Port of Oswego. That’s why I led a bipartisan effort alongside my friend and fellow Oswego County Congressman, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, to urge Congressional leaders to ensure our ports have the means to remain operational. The Port of Oswego is vital to our local economy, and to the U.S. supply chain. These ports will be critical to ensuring communities across the country can effectively participate in economic recovery efforts. We must ensure the Port of Oswego receives the necessary relief to remain functional during this unprecedented crisis.
Next, we need to continue efforts to support our local agricultural economy. With farmers in our region facing adverse market conditions, I’ve worked alongside members of New York’s congressional delegation to stand up for our agriculture community during this difficult time. As a result of our advocacy, this week, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) began allowing farms and agricultural businesses to apply for COVID-19 relief through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. While there is more to do to support our family farms, this action puts them on the right path by providing access to much-needed capital during this crisis.
Finally, while the COVID-19 pandemic has presented entirely new challenges for our region, we must remain vigilant this spring and summer to ensure families in our region do not suffer further financial hardship due to flooding. High-water levels and catastrophic flooding have devastated Lake Ontario’s southern shore in recent years, damaging local homes, businesses, and water infrastructure. According to data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, water levels on all five of the Great Lakes currently stand well above historic averages. For shoreline communities still recovering from years of persistent and costly flooding, sustained high-water levels in 2020 threaten to deal additional long-term damage to local property and infrastructure. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic creating significant financial strains for working families, businesses owners, and state and local governments, communities across the Great Lakes must contend with multiple ongoing threats to the physical and economic security of the region. For this reason, I proudly led a bipartisan delegation of members of Congress representing Great Lakes communities in requesting additional aid for shoreline communities, and pushed a long-term strategy across all levels of government for responding to the sustained threat of rising water levels on the Great Lakes.
We have seen incredible actions by leaders in our community and nationwide to address this challenge head-on. I recognize that there is a long road ahead as we continue to respond to this pandemic, and eventually, re-open and re-build our local economy. I was proud to be appointed to the president’s bipartisan Task Force on Re-Opening the Economy, which has allowed me to bring Oswego County’s voice to the table. I will continue to use this role, and every opportunity presented, to ensure our community’s needs are addressed.
U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus, has represented western Oswego County in the House of Representatives since 2015.