Essential U.S. maritime programs funded by Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024

On Saturday, March 9, President Biden signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024, averting a partial government shut down and, among other things, providing funding through the end of fiscal year 2024 for essential U.S. maritime programs and fleets supporting both the U.S. Merchant Marine and national defense sealift operations.

The appropriations act ensures several programs that directly sustain jobs for U.S. merchant mariners, including members of American Maritime Officers, and broadly benefit the U.S. Merchant Marine and its crucial roles in strategic sealift and national defense shipping operations, are funded this year at the levels noted below.

For fiscal year 2024, the Maritime Security Program is fully funded at $318 million. The MSP’s 60 militarily-useful U.S.-flagged ships 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 or more it would cost the government to replicate the sealift capacity and the intermodal infrastructure provided to the DOD by private-sector MSP participants. Some elements of the transportation and logistics networks made available through the MSP could not be duplicated by the government at any cost.

The Cable Security Fleet of two U.S.-flagged ships is fully funded at $10 million for this fiscal year. The Cable Security Fleet is modeled after the Maritime Security Program and will require an annual appropriation of funding by Congress. Currently, both slots in the program are occupied by cable laying and repair ships operated under AMO contract.

The Tanker Security Program is funded at $60 million for the operation of 10 qualified U.S.-flagged tankers. Although the fiscal year 2024 appropriation does not include funding for the legislatively-mandated expansion of the Tanker Security Program from 10 to 20 ships, the appropriations act does provide an additional $2.5 million for each enrolled tanker for verifiable training costs and other expenses related to the billeting of qualified U.S. merchant mariners onboard ships operating in this fleet.

Like the Maritime Security Program, the funding for the Tanker Security Program needs to be appropriated each year, even though the program is fully authorized to be funded through 2035.

The appropriations act provides funding for U.S. food-aid programs through the end of 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 a baseline of approximately $1.62 billion, a decrease from the previous year’s funding level of $1.75 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.

For the Maritime Guaranteed Loan (Title XI) Program, the appropriations act provides $50,586,000 for new shipbuilding loan guarantees – approximately $10 million more than was authorized for fiscal year 2024 for the Title XI Program, which eases access to commercial credit for the construction of merchant vessels in U.S. shipyards. Additionally, $3 million in funding was provided for the program’s administrative expenses.

The appropriations act provides $267,775,000 for maritime operations and training on the national level, with a total amount of $184,729,000 designated specifically for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in the categories of operations, capital improvements and maintenance, repair, and equipment.

The appropriations act provides $125,788,000 for the state maritime academies, with $22 million designated for maintenance, repair and life extension of academy training ships; $86,588,000 for the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel Program, including reimbursement to academies for certain expenses related to maintenance and berthing of new NSMVs; $8.8 million for training ship fuel assistance; and a total of $8.4 million for other state maritime academy programs and expenses.

The appropriations act also provides $12 million to the Secretary of Transportation “to enter into a contract to complete the designs of ten sealift vessels for the National Defense Reserve Fleet.” Such vessels would presumably become part of the Ready Reserve Force once delivered.

With the passage and enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024, six additional appropriations bills remained under negotiation at press time. These measures would include funding for the Pentagon and Homeland Security, among other things. The continuing resolution that extends funding for government operations covered by the six outstanding appropriations bills was set to expire March 22.