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Senator's View: Historic investments will help Northland 'build back better' in 2022

From the column: "Projects in Duluth stand to benefit because of (the infrastructure bill)."

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U.S. Sen. Tina Smith talks with Rod Alstead, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 346, after a meeting at the Teamsters building Friday, April 23, 2021, in Duluth. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Just a year ago, Duluth and the Northland, like the rest of our state and nation, were still reeling from an unprecedented and deadly pandemic that had taken hundreds of thousands of lives, stolen millions of jobs from families and businesses, closed schools, and stretched our economy and our health care systems to the breaking point.

I knew then that getting our state and nation back on its feet would have to be the central focus of our work in 2021, to not only meet the health and economic crisis but to give us the opportunity to build back better.

We are by no means out of the woods yet, but we have made significant progress at getting back to normal.

As we look ahead to 2022, the historic investments we made this year will power our recovery. The once-in-a-generation, bipartisan infrastructure law we passed this fall will put millions of people in good-paying jobs in Minnesota and across the country by rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, ports, and electric grids, as well as by expanding broadband networks. And the American Rescue Plan that I helped pass into law in the spring gave us the tools to battle the pandemic, restore lost jobs, and reopen our schools and small businesses.

In November, I joined President Joe Biden at the White House when he signed the historic, bipartisan infrastructure bill into law. I also joined him this past month when he came to Minnesota to discuss the transformative impact the new law will have on the lives of Minnesotans, by creating a generation of good-paying jobs and economic growth.

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I pushed hard to enact this law because it will make badly needed improvements to our state’s roads, bridges, ports, and electric grids. It provides the support to bring high-speed, affordable broadband networks to Minnesota families and businesses — especially those in rural areas. The new law also includes strong buy-American provisions so things like steel will be mined, melded, and manufactured in the United States.

Projects in Duluth stand to benefit because of this legislation. As the bill is implemented, the city could replace some 5,000 old city water pipes, speed up completion of the massive Twin Ports Interchange Project, and get going on much-needed maintenance to Duluth’s iconic Aerial Lift Bridge.

I’m proud to have worked on this bill with Republicans and Democrats alike, because it will bring enormous benefit to our state — and the Northland in particular. It’s disappointing that U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, unlike other Republicans, voted against it.

When we enacted the American Rescue Plan in March, we helped struggling families and businesses across the Northland by providing stimulus checks and housing assistance. And we cut taxes for working families by expanding the child tax credit, which has cut child poverty nearly in half in our state and across the country.

At a Duluth roundtable in October, I heard from struggling child-care providers, parents, and businesses who told me the pandemic had pushed our child-care industry to the brink of collapse. They appreciated the $40 billion I pushed to be included to help providers get through the crisis and to give millions of struggling families the affordable child care they needed so they could go back to work this year.

The health crisis brought on by the pandemic showed us the value of quality, affordable health coverage. In the American Rescue Plan, we lowered health care premiums and reduced cost sharing for families, saving Minnesotans $238 million in out-of-pocket costs. And we expanded access to lower-cost premiums for thousands of Minnesota families, capping those premiums at 8.5% of their household income.

We’ve done a lot this year to help families, small businesses, and communities in the Northland and across the state get back on their feet. As we enter 2022, I’m confident our state and nation will see the benefits of our work.

Tina Smith represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the invitation of the News Tribune Opinion page.

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U.S. Sen. Tina Smith

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