Consolidated Appropriations Act provides full funding for programs crucial to U.S.-flag fleet

On December 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 - legislation funding the federal government for the remainder of the current fiscal year, including programs crucial to the U.S.-flag fleet and U.S. Merchant Marine. This fiscal year runs through September 30, 2021.

The appropriations act provides full funding for the Maritime Security Program fleet - $314 million for fiscal year 2021. The full funding level allows for a stipend of approximately $5.23 million for each of the MSPĂ•s 60 militarily-useful U.S.-flagged ships, which are crewed by U.S. merchant mariners and operate in international commercial trades. The ships and their corresponding privately-owned intermodal cargo systems and networks are available to the Department of Defense for military sealift operations and in national security emergencies. The cost of the MSP amounts to a small fraction of the estimated $65 billion it would cost the government to replicate this sealift capacity and the intermodal infrastructure provided to the DOD by private-sector MSP participants, and some elements of the transportation and logistics networks made available through the MSP could not be duplicated by the government at any cost.

The appropriations act also provides full funding for the U.S. Cable Security Fleet, which is modeled after the MSP - $10 million for this fiscal year. The cable security fleet consists of two qualified U.S.-flagged ships, which receive an annual stipend. Like the MSP, annual approval of the funding is required. The ships participating in this program install, repair and maintain Defense Department communications cable systems.

The appropriations act provides funding for U.S. food-aid programs through the current fiscal year. Food for Peace Title II - the primary source of food-aid cargoes for U.S.-flagged vessels - is now funded at $1.74 billion. In appropriations legislation enacted for the previous fiscal year, the program was funded at $1.725 billion.

Under U.S. cargo preference requirements, at least 50 percent of U.S. government impelled food-aid shipments must be carried by U.S.-flagged vessels. While providing vital food aid to nations in need around the world, these cargoes help keep U.S.-flagged commercial vessels in service and U.S. merchant mariners, who are needed to man surge and reserve military sealift vessels in times of war and crisis, employed and current on their skills and certifications.

The appropriations act provides the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel Program with $390 million, covering construction, planning, administration and design of maritime academy training ships, which will also be used in defense sealift and humanitarian crisis missions domestically and abroad.

The act also provides $3 million for administrative expenses related to the Maritime AdministrationÕs Title XI shipbuilding loan guarantee program, which eases access to commercial credit for the construction of merchant vessels in U.S. shipyards.

Ready Reserve Force

The appropriations act funds the National Defense Reserve Fleet, including the Ready Reserve Force, at approximately $376 million for the current fiscal year. During the previous fiscal year, the National Defense Reserve Fleet appropriation was $352 million, and in fiscal year 2019, the funding level was $310.8 million.