Calling his former work as a county official back in Delaware “the most meaningful and significant” public service of his life, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) spoke to NACo members Monday at the Legislative Conference about legislation he’s working on that will impact their jobs back home.
“Whether it’s dealing with the opioid epidemic, our aging infrastructure or the coronavirus pandemic that is just rolling up on our shores, counties are the first line of defense for our people,” he said. “Let me be your advocate.” He touched on an array of issues important to counties.
One of those issues he’s working is water projects. “We need to do a better job in financing of restoration and repair of stormwater and sewer systems,” he said, “but in making sure that we help facilitate in the adoption of the latest technology.”
Coons said that “if I’m running the engineering and water and sewer department of a local county government, I’m not going to take the risk in putting in these new cutting-edge technologies until someone has really validated it.”
The Water Resources and Development Act, he said, will make sure “best practices water technologies are tested, tried are true and available to the most important level of government in our country.”
Coons also cited his work helping to clean up PFAs contamination. A PFAs bill sponsored by his state’s senior senator, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) will invest $10 billion in resources in cleanup and remediation, he said. PFAs are harmful chemicals (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances).
Coons also told the audience he is “an eager and enthusiastic funder of CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) and HOME funding programs. HOME is the largest Federal block grant to state and local governments designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households. HOME funds are awarded annually as formula grants to participating jurisdictions.
“I know what good they’ve done in my community I know what a powerful tool they are in the hands of good governments,” he said to applause, “and I know that cutting them to zero is the wrong path and we need to restore full funding to CDBG and HOME.”
Touching on transportation, Coons said “we are billions and billions” of dollars behind on fixing crumbling infrastructure including interstate highways, bridges, tunnels and culverts.
Another issue important to counties: The opioid crisis. Coons said his “little state of 900,000 people” is not immune to it and saw 400 overdose deaths last year and is on track to see even more this year.
“We have got to do more,” he said. Coons is working on bills that will help the Drug Enforcement Agency track where and when shipments of opioids go. “If Pizza Hut and Amazon have this technology,” he asked, “why doesn’t the DEA?”