One-on-one: Biden cabinet secretary discusses COVID relief for La.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg discusses the American Rescue Plan with FOX 8.
Updated: Mar. 15, 2021 at 6:54 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet says the American Rescue Plan has a lot to benefit the people of Louisiana as well as state and local government.

Pete Buttigieg is Biden’s Secretary of Transportation.

“The American Rescue Plan is vitally important for cities like New Orleans because it’s the biggest step yet that we’ve taken for beating the virus,” said Buttigieg in a one-on-one interview with FOX 8.

The $1.9 trillion COVID relief package is being rolled out after Biden signed it last week.

Tourism in New Orleans and across the state has suffered due to a drop in global travel because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Tourism will come back a hundred percent once it’s safe and it’s safe once we’ve beaten the virus, but to do that takes resources. It’ll take $160 billion dollars that are in this plan to help make sure that everybody’s able to get vaccinated,” said Buttigieg.

Stimulus checks of $1,400 are being sent out to most Americans as part of the relief package.

Thousands of people lost their jobs in Louisiana because of the health crisis.

“It’s one of the reasons why it was so important to the president to make sure checks are going out to families, to make sure support is going out to employers, saving jobs and by the way, while we’re at it, lifting millions out of poverty which means we’ll cut in half the rate of child poverty in this country,” Buttigieg stated.

Buttigieg also talked about the billions of dollars that will benefit Louisiana.

“I’m proud of the pieces that are close to what I work on most which is supporting transit and supporting state and local communities. Over $3 billion to help the state of Louisiana with its fiscal blows that it took because of the virus and over $1 billion for local communities like New Orleans to help get through this tough season,” he said.

The relief package provides financial assistance to public transit, including Amtrak.

“There’s a lot of support for airports, over a billion dollars for Amtrak,” said Buttigieg. “You’ve got airline workers, flight attendants who were told they can tear up their furlough notices when they were so concerned about being laid off and transit agencies and not just in the biggest cities but across this country that were at risk of having to lay people off or cut their routes even further instead getting that much-needed support.”

Erin Burns, the spokeswoman for Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, said the FAA is working on a formula that will determine how much the terminal will receive from the latest COVID relief package.

Burns said Armstrong Airport received $42.7 million from the first relief package last year and 13.8 million from the package approved in December.

“Look, the transportation sector is vital to the economy of this country as folks across New Orleans know so well because of that role of tourism,” said Buttigieg.

Democrats also want a massive infrastructure package which they say will be a huge job creator.

Buttigieg was asked whether he was confident the Biden administration could get support from Republicans for such a package, given that no Republicans in Congress voted for the American Rescue Plan.

“I don’t think infrastructure is a partisan issue. I’ve never seen a Republican or Democratic road or bridge, now this is Washington and politics are what they are; it’s going to take a lot of work, there’s no question of that, but if half of the Republicans I’ve talked to who’ve expressed interest and excitement in this opportunity, if half of them come through we’re going to be in great shape,” Buttigieg stated.

Buttigieg said any infrastructure package must be shaped with equity in mind.

“I don’t have to tell anybody in New Orleans this, we know how important it is to get ahead of our challenge; good transportation infrastructure can do that. We know that it’s important to build with an eye toward equity,” Buttigieg said. Look, there’s a history of bad transportation policy in the past, highways cutting black neighborhoods in two. Whole communities being left behind because they didn’t get the investment they should have.”

He was also asked if the administration supports a push by some Democrats to make the expanded child tax credits permanent.

“I’ll let the president speak to future policy, but I think that this is a fantastic tool for reducing poverty and I think that experience of seeing how powerful it is, how much of a difference it makes will help illustrate why there’s such a strong case for it,” said Buttigieg.

Biden said during an address on the new COVID relief that he wants all adults made eligible for the vaccine by all states by May 1.

“I think we can do it, it’s an ambitious target and obviously the president and the administration can’t do it alone, this is a partnership with states and counties, local officials who are on the frontlines of getting this done,” he said.

And Buttigieg responded to a question about what the Biden administration is doing to make sure the nearly $2 trillion relief package is properly implemented.

“That’s a great question. It’s not a simple thing to deploy all of these resources that got authorized, so we’re working hard in my department to make sure that we’re able to support that process, the president has just named Gene Sperling, a longtime economic expert to spearhead the effort to make sure that this implementation goes well,” he said.

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