By Congressman Kevin McCarthy, House Republican Leader and Representative for California’s 23rd Congressional District
For months, there has been a crisis at our ports, adversely affecting agricultural producers in Kern County, perpetuated by the Biden administration’s failed policies. Because California is the 5th largest agricultural producer in the world, with Kern County serving as the top second agricultural producing county in the Golden State, ensuring a functioning supply chain is critical to supporting our state’s agricultural exports, which are worth more than $21 billion.
Unfortunately, President Biden promised Americans relief, but his promises have fallen short. His policies, which have incentivized Americans not to work, have led to the largest worker shortage in history. And just last month, 22 percent of jobs went unfilled. This is alarming, particularly given there are not enough workers to unload the cargo that arrives at our ports.
One negative ramification of these failed policies is that we are seeing cargo containers leave the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach empty instead of carrying Central Valley-grown produce and agricultural products to foreign markets. When cargo sits on vessel-operating common carriers (i.e. cargo ships) or at our ports for too long, Kern County and Central Valley exporters are being charged detention or demurrage fees, sometimes despite backlogs being no fault of their own. And because of broader supply chain problems and backlogs, American entrepreneurs are having to scramble to purchase inventory at marked-up prices when their original orders do not arrive in time.
Many of our Kern County farmers, families, and entrepreneurs, who rely heavily on exports traversing through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in an efficient manner, are reeling from these issues.
This week, the House passed the Ocean Shipping Reform Act (H.R. 4996), a bipartisan bill to address the backlog at American ports. By no means perfect, this legislation will help ensure that Kern County and other exporters are not being charged inappropriate detention or demurrage fees by requiring the Federal Maritime Commission to create some standards to provide better transparency and consistency on these fees. More importantly, this legislation would also ensure that cargo ships cannot unreasonably deny cargo for export as long as that cargo can be loaded safely and efficiently onto the ship. This provision may help reduce the number of empty cargo containers leaving the West Coast that should be filled with Kern County agricultural and other exports. I voted for H.R. 4996 when it passed the House on December 8th by a vote of 364 to 60.
H.R. 4996 does not address the underlying issues of the supply chain crisis – our worker shortage – nor does it repeal the Biden administration’s policies that are causing or exacerbating this crisis, but it is a bipartisan start to providing some relief to Kern County and Central Valley exporters. I will continue to hold the Biden administration accountable for the mess it created in the first place, and work to advance common sense solutions to get the West Coast exports system and supply chains functioning efficiently again.