By Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-SC), House Majority Whip
We all sang “America the Beautiful,” a patriotic anthem that celebrates the varied landscapes from “sea to shining sea” in our great country. This beloved song underscores what we know to be true about the United States – the diversity of our people and places is what makes our nation strong.
Since every American community is unique, it makes sense that each community has its own unique challenges and needs. I represent South Carolina’s sixth congressional district made up of rural and urban communities spread across 16 counties. While they may have common concerns, their ability and capacity to address those concerns is also unique.
That’s why they have a congressman who knows their community well and has been elected to represent their distinct needs in Washington. My role in Congress is to stand up for my constituents, and I’m glad that one of the best ways to fulfill that responsibility has been reinstated. With the return of Democratic control of the House and Senate, Congress last month passed its first federal spending bill in more than a decade that includes funding for community projects identified by local entities and championed by their elected representatives. While those funding opportunities have returned, misplaced critiques of the policy have also surfaced.
Many of us remember when the 45and president called Baltimore, Maryland a “disgusting mess, infested with rats and rodents.” Yet when area congressman Kweisi Mfume recently secured $3 million in community project funding for the “green” redevelopment of the city’s most run-down area, the Heritage Foundation called it a ‘rancid pork project’ which would have no ‘chance of helping the environment in any meaningful way. These Washington insiders should travel the short distance to Baltimore to see the transformative nature of this project.
The Tivoly Triangle Eco-Village will revitalize an area of Baltimore by building innovative, affordable homes and commercial buildings that generate 100% of their electricity needs from renewable energy sources like solar power. It will serve as a resilience center for first responders in the event of a regional grid outage, and it will stabilize the community and create new residential, recreational and business opportunities for area residents. The project also received financial support from the city and the state.
In the past, I’ve won the Porker of the Month award from Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a Washington-based organization whose stated mission is to eliminate waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency from government. Criticism from groups like CAGW is often directed at community projects like the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency (LMRWA) located in the heart of my district along a stretch of Interstate-95 derisively called ” the corridor of shame”.
These groups argue that state and local funds should pay for these types of efforts. Maybe they should but they don’t. LMRWA-affected counties have historically been neglected by state and local governments. Many of them do not have a sufficient tax base to adequately support their schools and adequately meet the needs of their communities.
In response to the LMRWA’s request, I secured $19.785 million in community project funding to expand the LMRWA to provide water to areas of Orangeburg and Berkeley counties. It was through continued federal support of my application for this project that South Carolina was able to attract America’s first Volvo plant to the Berkeley County town of Ridgeville. Without access to clean water, this community, where 26.5% of the population lived in poverty in 2019, would not have been able to attract an industry that local officials say “signals a sea change for this community. Volvo’s $500 million plant is expected to create 4,000 jobs by 2030 and have an estimated total economic output of $4.8 billion per year. As economists like to say, this is an extraordinary return on federal investment.
Another water project that similarly illustrates Washington insiders’ lack of veracity regarding funding for community projects is the $9.95 million that Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee secured for a retention pond. stormwater and a culvert improvement project in Houston. She was awarded the ACGW’s March 2022 Pig of the Month for her “contempt for taxpayers”, citing in part this water project. Yet the Texas Tribune newspaper wrote of his community-funded project, and others like it: “Houston-area officials took away money for flood relief and stormwater drainage. in their districts – an ongoing concern for the region in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. ”
This devastating Category 4 hurricane in August 2017 killed 103 Texans and left a third of Houston under water. Without these infrastructure upgrades, Houston, which suffered $1.5 billion in damage, could be even more devastated in the next hurricane. Investing in preventative measures seems like a small price to pay considering the future expenses they will help curb.
These community-funded projects would not have received favorable consideration by the arbitrary standards set by Washington insiders. However, each is a catalyst for changing the quality of life of the communities that have received them. Without their elected member of Congress standing up for them, these communities would face very different futures.
The return of community-funded projects is a welcome relief for those of us who see it as part of our mission to meet the needs of citizens living in what the Census Bureau calls “communities of persistent poverty.” . These appropriations represent only a fraction of overall federal spending and are part of total federal agency allocations. There is transparency in the process and protections that prevent members of Congress and their families from taking advantage of these community project funds.
Realizing the vision of “America the Beautiful” means making sure that from Shining Sea to Shining Sea, we do the things that are necessary to make America’s greatness accessible and affordable to all of our communities, from Shining Sea to Shining Sea.