November 26, 2021

Bringing Our Infrastructure Into the 21st Century

This month, we made major progress in our efforts to enact our full Build Back Better Agenda, including by passing and signing into law a historic infrastructure modernization bill. To grow our economy and generate more good-paying jobs, we’ve got to fix our crumbling roads and bridges, invest in transit systems across the country, and modernize the full array of our infrastructure to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This bill is a historic step forward.

I was pleased to welcome President Biden to the Port of Baltimore to highlight what the infrastructure bill means for Maryland workers and families. This initiative makes significant investments to improve our transit systems, railways, clean water systems, roads, bridges, and tunnels. Importantly, it also makes critical investments in building the backbone of a more competitive, modern U.S. economy – including funds to expand broadband to end the digital divide and start building out our clean energy grid and electric charging stations. This bill also invests $17 billion in our ports nationwide – and that includes the Port of Baltimore, a huge economic driver in our state that delivers goods to our region and, along with them, more growth and opportunity for Marylanders.

I worked to secure key elements in this bipartisan plan to support Maryland directly, including investments in a healthy Chesapeake Bay. I also fought to include provisions I authored to reconnect communities that had been split apart by 1960s federal transportation projects like the Highway to Nowhere in West Baltimore. And the bill includes a vital reauthorization of the $150 million annual federal contribution for WMATA for another eight years, policies I wrote to better protect our frontline transit workers, and my bipartisan amendment to ensure taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects are soundly financed. Crucially, we also succeeded in adding language to keep federal funding for the Baltimore Red Line metro project alive, despite the Governor’s decision to pull the plug on this key investment. Finally, even before the pandemic began, I was working to connect every student, household, and business with affordable high-speed internet and expand the use of clean energy – and those investments in this bill, estimated at over $150 million for our state alone, will help keep Marylanders at the forefront of our global economy. 

In short: this new law will generate more good-paying jobs and strengthen our economy while improving the physical backbone of our country – and it will bring over $7 billion in direct investments straight to Maryland. To borrow a G-rated version of a statement from former Vice President Biden: this is a big darn deal! I was proud to fight for Maryland’s priorities in this bill and to vote in the Senate to send it to the President’s desk, and I was pleased to join the President, Vice President, congressional colleagues, and others at the White House for the signing of this landmark legislation.

With the passage of this historic bill, we’re also moving full steam ahead to deliver the full Build Back Better Agenda. Greater prosperity for all requires expanding economic and job opportunities, cutting the rising costs that are financially squeezing so many, and accelerating the deployment of cleaner, cheaper, home-grown renewable energy – and our plan does just that. Last week, the House of Representatives kept the momentum going by passing the Build Back Better Bill. This legislation, in tandem with the new infrastructure modernization bill, will build a more inclusive economy and lower everyday costs for the American people. It will deliver substantial tax cuts for middle-class families with children; provide for universal early education and affordable child care; fight the climate crisis with a transition to a clean energy economy; make in-home care for seniors and disabled individuals more accessible and affordable; lower the cost of prescription drugs; and so much more. And we will pay for these vital initiatives with long-overdue reforms to our tax system to prevent large corporations from avoiding paying taxes by hiding profits overseas and ensure that the wealthiest of the wealthy do more to invest in the success of all.

From day one, I’ve been committed to bringing these investments directly to Maryland workers, students, families, and seniors. Together, these two bills will help bring a brighter future – with greater opportunity and shared prosperity – to our state and our nation. Now that the House has acted on the Build Back Better Bill, it’s time for the Senate to get it across the finish line.

Honoring Our Veterans and Those Who Now Serve 

We owe an enduring debt of gratitude to our Veterans, to our active-duty service members, and to all of their families. This year on Veterans Day, I had the honor of addressing Maryland Veterans from VFW Post 2562 and American Legion Post 268, and I had the privilege of paying tribute to the men and women – across Maryland and around the world – who have valiantly served our country. We must match our expressions of appreciation with real, supporting deeds. I’m committed to upholding the promises of a grateful nation to all of our Veterans and will continue the fight to ensure every Veteran has access to quality health care, housing, educational benefits, and job opportunities.

In that very spirit, I’ve been working with Senate colleagues to make crucial investments in our security both at home and abroad by helping assemble this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). I’ve partnered with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to include priorities within this bill to strengthen our national defenses – including Maryland’s many vital military installations. In addition, the current version of this year’s NDAA includes key priorities for our state and our service members, including a 2.7% pay raise for military and DoD civilians, an increase in parental leave to 12 weeks for all service members, a provision that allows for up to two weeks of bereavement leave in connection with the death of a spouse or child, and elements from my SERVE Act, which helps ensure that a congressional vacancy no longer results in the revocation of that lawmaker’s service academy nominations. I am also proud to cosponsor a bipartisan amendment to this year’s NDAA that would call for the placement of a memorial on the National Mall honoring those we’ve lost in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the broader fight against terrorists like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. In addition, the current NDAA legislation includes my Foreign Service Families Act, which will help ensure that the Foreign Service is able to attract and retain a world-class diplomatic corps by providing expanded career options and services to eligible family members. These are just a few of the key components of this essential legislation that we must get to the President’s desk.

Ensuring Marylanders Get Their Mail

In August 2020, I gathered with Federal Team Maryland in Baltimore City to highlight the unacceptable postal delays that have been plaguing thousands of Marylanders since Trump’s Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, took the helm at USPS. At that time, I had been hearing from constituents about medication shipments that had gone missing, small businesses that couldn’t get products to customers, and people who were getting hit with late fees for bill payments that didn’t arrive on time because of delays. That situation needed to change – and I’ve been working alongside colleagues ever since to demand real accountability and action from the USPS.

As Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, I convened a hearing that included testimony from the USPS Inspector General and from Marylanders who have been negatively affected by poor service. The Subcommittee heard from Karen Meyers, a small business owner in Baltimore who relies on the USPS to receive orders from her customers. We also heard from Rania Dima with the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, who detailed how these delays prevent her from receiving educational materials that she needs to learn Braille, as she loses her eyesight. Their testimony – and the testimony of other Marylanders – hit home in Washington, and demonstrated the real-life consequences of these delays to many of my colleagues.

At that hearing, I also urged the USPS Office of the Inspector General (IG) to investigate these problems and report back – and earlier this month, we finally got answers through a published report on this issue. I joined members of Federal Team Maryland at the Dundalk Post Office to announce the results of that audit and to discuss next steps that would improve postal service in Maryland. The IG report reviewed the performance of nine post offices in the Baltimore area between October 2019 and July 2021 and provided a clearer picture of just how bad things have been. Post offices in Baltimore have received 3-to-5 times more service-related complaints than the national average. The Dundalk Post Office alone received over 160,000 reports of delayed mail during the twenty-one month period that was studied by the Inspector General’s office.

But this report didn’t just highlight the problem – it also offered solutions. The audit has provided a roadmap for how to address these issues and, among its recommendations, this report calls for a new plan for hiring and retention, a third USPS Training Academy in Maryland, and a system for ensuring that all USPS station managers report delayed mail and delayed packaging in the customer service system so USPS can keep track of issues that crop up – and fix delays as soon as possible. Management will be working to implement these recommendations and is required to have each of the proposed action items in place by the end of this month.

In addition to those efforts, I recently led members of the Maryland delegation in sending a letter to Postmaster General DeJoy requesting a progress report on the Postal Service’s efforts to ensure mail is delivered in a timely manner this holiday season. For far too long, Postmaster General DeJoy has wreaked havoc on our Postal Service and has undermined the critical mail services so many Americans rely on – and he must be held to account. That’s why I was also pleased to see President Biden announce his plans to nominate Daniel Tangherlini to the U.S. Postal Service’s governing board to help block further damage by the Postmaster General – removing DeJoy must come next.

I will continue to monitor this situation closely, and I won’t let up in our push to restore the quality service that our fellow citizens have come to expect from the USPS.

Giving Thanks

One year ago, Thanksgiving came and went amid much isolation and mostly quiet celebration. It was the height of the pandemic and most of us were still separated from anyone outside of our quarantine bubbles. One year later, we are bouncing back. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we’ve been able to deploy life-saving vaccines to our communities and have helped our economy start to rebound. We still have a long road ahead – but I am thankful for how far we’ve come. I am especially grateful for our frontline workers, health care providers, and the scientific community who have been working around-the-clock to fight back against COVID-19.

The past year and a half hasn’t been easy, but I believe that there is still so much to be thankful for, from family and friends to all of those who have protected our democracy, spoken truth to power, and advanced the vital mission of forming a more perfect union. And I am, as always, thankful to represent the great state of Maryland.

I’m also grateful to be able to offer assistance to the people of Maryland. As we enjoy this season of Thanksgiving, I want to highlight the news I recently received from two constituents. They reached out to my office because – after working with our team and us fighting for changes at the federal level – their student loans had finally been forgiven. I want to thank my own hardworking team for helping make this happen. For years we’ve been pushing for updates to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and now Marylanders are finally seeing the results. Their stories – and the stories of countless other Marylanders who reach out to my office needing assistance, thanking staff, or sharing input – affirms my enduring belief that we can achieve real results when we work together in service of common goals that benefit our communities. It’s in that spirit of partnership and progress that I hope you will continue to stay engaged.

Happy Thanksgiving! 






               Chris Van Hollen


P.S. It is now Open Season for Maryland Health Connection and the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) Program. Make sure you have all the information you need to get covered!