Such policies will ensure the U.S. maintains at least some of the PPE production built during the pandemic. Otherwise, we’ll remain reliant on China.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing joined with 19 other industry and union groups on Monday to voice support for including strong domestic procurement policy in bipartisan legislation that is designed to better position the United States to compete economically with China.
Spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) is a comprehensive piece of legislation that pulls together action items from several other bills in the hopes of strengthening America’s manufacturing base, including in the semiconductor industry.
But the USICA also offers an opportunity to strengthen domestic production of personal protective equipment (PPE), a coalition of organizations wrote to Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The coalition writes:
“Now is the time to seriously reconsider our policies that send U.S. tax dollars to China only to have our access to critical PPE and other health supplies cut off in a crisis. The only path that secures our public health ahead of the next pandemic is a major shift to policies that incentivize robust and redundant supply chains and broaden the marketplace for these items.”
The coalition — which includes an eclectic mix of groups from the United Steelworkers and AFL-CIO to the National Council of Textile Organizations and American Apparel and Footwear Association to the American Sheep Institute and Parachute Industry Association – writes that American workers and manufacturers stepped up in the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic to make more than 1 billion critical PPE items, including face masks, isolation gowns, and testing kit swabs.
Now it’s on policymakers to ensure that U.S. workers and companies can continue to make these vital products in the years to come – and position the United States to respond more effectively in the next crisis.
“For the first time in years, America makes PPE again,” the letter continues. “For this trend to take hold, however, the emergent U.S. PPE industry needs the purchasing certainty that long-term government contracts can provide.”
In the letter, the coalition focuses on the potential benefits included in Section 4153 of the USICA, which runs parallel to the bipartisan Make PPE in America Act, introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) earlier this year. “Sec. 4153 will create the demand signal necessary to incentivize private sector investment in PPE manufacturing and support the growth of our public health industrial base,” the coalition writes.
Specifically, the coalition urges Senate leadership to ensure the USICA expands domestic procurement requirements to the four government agencies responsible for the largest purchases of PPE, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, Veterans Administration, and the Defense Department.
Domestic procurement policies – like those proposed in Sec. 4153 – have long been important, but the pandemic really drove home their necessity. At the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. did not have enough PPE like face masks and gowns. In addition, the U.S. supply chain of PPE was virtually nonexistent. Healthcare providers were forced to rely on foreign manufacturers for supplies, many of which were based in China.
American workers and companies large and small beat the odds to step in and fill the void. But they now face a whole new host of issues.
Some of these issues are not necessarily bad at face value. For example, the U.S. is seeing a drop in COVID-19 cases, which has resulted in relaxed masking guidance across the country, especially for people who have received the vaccine. That means people need to buy fewer masks.
But there’s another looming threat: The market for PPE has been flooded with imports – particularly below-cost products from China.
Chinese PPE manufacturers have taken to drastically undercutting American manufacturers’ prices in recent months. This is something that American PPE makers, many of which are just small factories that began production at the start of the pandemic, cannot survive. Even with the federal support provided thus far, many American PPE manufacturers have still had to cut production, resulting in thousands of lost jobs.
That’s why including strong domestic procurement policies in the USICA is so critical.
“Last spring when our national PPE crisis was on the nightly news showing workers wearing garbage bags as gowns and reusing N95 masks, our severe overreliance on China for PPE revealed the undeniable fact that the lack of U.S. production of PPE is a threat to our national security and the public health of the American people,” the coalition writes. “Our lack of domestic PPE manufacturing is the result of a generation’s worth of offshoring that has not only undermined our public health response, but centralized critical manufacturing in the hands of a strategic adversary. Failure to rectify this threatening dependency would be to snub our nose at Murphy’s Law – the idea that if something goes wrong, it will go wrong. It will show to the American people that our leaders have failed to learn the lessons of COVID-19.”