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Before the members of Congress left Washington to head home for the holidays, the House and Senate both passed major spending bills, which were signed by President Trump, that benefited the U.S.-flag merchant marine.

Within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020 was legislation extending the Maritime Security Program (MSP) through fiscal year 2035.

Enacted in 1996, the MSP ensures that the Defense Department has access to a fleet of U.S.-crewed, U.S.-flagged, militarily useful vessels in times of war or national emergency. In exchange, U.S.-flag companies whose ships are enrolled in the program receive an annual stipend. The MSP and its related Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement have saved the federal government billions of dollars that would be needed to replicate its efforts.

Sixty ships are included in the MSP. The current stipend of $5 million per vessel will increase to $5.3 million beginning in fiscal year 2022. Congress still must approve the stipends annually.

The NDAA authorized an MSP-like cable ship program beginning in fiscal year 2021.

Also within the NDAA is language making the transition from the U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. merchant marine easier. It includes a study on the availability of Jones Act vessels for offshore wind farm work and another for the departments of Defense and Transportation on the need for an adequate U.S.-flag tanker fleet.

A second and much larger appropriations bill covers the federal government through September 2020 also dealt with maritime-related issues.

It fully funded MSP at the $5 million per ship level.

The appropriations bill reauthorized the U.S. Export-Import Bank for seven years. Cargo generated by Ex-Im Bank funds must be moved overseas on U.S.-crewed, U.S.-flagged vessels. It permitted the bank’s board to authorize loans in the event it lacks a quorum.

The package also included $1.7 billion for the Food for Peace Program (PL 480). Fifty percent of the cargo from this must be moved aboard U.S.-crewed, U.S.-flagged vessels.

In addition, the appropriations legislation had good news for MTD affiliates. It repealed the so-called “Cadillac” tax on quality health care coverage that could have adversely affected millions of union members and their families. It also provided funding for the American Miners Act that secures the pensions and health care for thousands of Mine Workers and their families.