WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act (H.R. 4220), which will allow for full utilization of fees collected in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for maintaining U.S. harbors and ports at their authorized depths.

“Today was a win, years in the making, for our nation’s coastal communities, and members of the maritime workforce,” said U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio. “Congress finally passed the Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act, legislation to ensure our ports and harbors receive the funding they need to ensure they are fully operational.

“As someone who represents a coastal district, I’ve heard from countless fishermen, ship, tug and barge operators about the critical need for safe and well-maintained ports and harbors that allow them to do their jobs and keep our economy moving,” DeFazio said. “These are fees already collected by the federal government and it’s about time the money is used for its intended purpose — harbor maintenance. I encourage a swift passage through the Senate and look forward to the president signing this legislation into law.”

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, over the next decade, the Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act of 2019 would enable $34 billion deposited into the HMTF to be accessed and spent for its collected and intended purpose such as dredging U.S. harbors to their constructed specifications.

In 1986, U.S. Congress enacted the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) to recover the operation and maintenance dredging costs for federally authorized ports from maritime shippers. The HMT is directly levied on importers and domestic shippers using coastal or inland ports as a 0.125% ad valorem tax on the value of imported cargo and is typically passed along to U.S. taxpayers on the purchase of imported goods or services, the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure said. The revenues are then deposited into the HMTF within the U.S. Treasury from which Congress currently appropriates funds to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for harbor maintenance dredging.

But according to the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure what is collected and what is spent on harbor maintenance is not the same.

“User fees collected specifically to improve the nation’s harbors — and enhance the competitiveness of our farmers and businesses — should be used for their intended purpose,” said Sam Graves, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking member.  “This bill is just common sense, and it’s the right thing to do for America’s infrastructure. This isn’t frivolous government spending being determined by bureaucrats. The fact is these projects are congressionally authorized and paid for by users of this infrastructure. I look forward to continuing our work to make sure the user fees collected into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are fully put toward our port and harbor infrastructure needs as Congress intended.”

According to the Corps, navigation channels at the United States’ busiest 59 ports are available less than 35% of the time and the conditions of the country’s mid-size and emerging harbors are far worse. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that U.S. ports and harbors will need additional investment of $15.8 billion between now and 2020 just to meet the demands of larger and heavier ships that will use the Panama Canal.

The passage of the bill in the House also was supported by the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA).

“The fact that more than $9 billion has been collected and deposited in the HMTF, but gone unspent for its intended purpose, is a fiscal disservice to those that pay the 0.125% ad valorem tax on the value of cargo imports,” NGFA said after the House vote. “H.R. 4220 will allow those dollars to be spent on much-needed dredging at the nation’s ports to help partially restore some of the United States’ comparative transportation advantage, which is essential to capturing export market opportunities that contribute to U.S. economic growth.”

The NGFA outlined its support of H.R. 2440, sponsored by DeFazio, in an Oct. 25 letter to the committee’s leadership. The NGFA also encouraged its members to send letters to their members of U.S. Congress in support of the legislation.