- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

Hip-hip-hooray. I'm dusting off my cheerleading pompoms and jumping for joy. We're back in business again.
Nothing absolutely nothing is better news for the Washington region than President Bush's order to reopen Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
The timing couldn't have happened sooner, juxtaposed against the reopening of Washington Boulevard off Interstate 395 in Arlington as it passes by the breathtaking backdrop of the haunting and hollowed Pentagon. Motorists are still stopping to stare, mesmerized by the surreal scenery.
It goes without saying that the airport's symbolic reopening sends a message to the nation and the world that the resilient American spirit is on the mend. However, what the airport's reopening means for this region's economy is immeasurable not only in dollars.
As Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, who sits on the Virginia governor's recovery task force, said yesterday, businesses were uncertain because the airport's future was uncertain. With that question answered, the region can get back on track toward what he predicts will be a full economic recovery.
No wonder we witnessed an atypical nonpartisan collaboration among our region's leaders from Virginia, Maryland and the District. A whole lot of money was riding on their powers of persuasion with the president and the White House staff.
Clearly, once the ledger showing the billion-dollar losses to this region's economy that is so dependent on the tourism industry were laid out, the feds flinched.
Wouldn't it be great if this united front headed by Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and our local congressional delegations continued beyond this crisis and they could forge more regional agreements? For instance, get us out of the traffic gridlock.
Or, maybe they could get behind Virginia Rep. James P. Moran's "displaced workers act of 2001" that provides direct assistance to laid-off employees just as other congressional legislation helped bail out businesses and the entire airline industry.
Mr. Gilmore and Sens. John W. Warner and George F. Allen of Virginia are to be commended for coming through for their constituents because they quite naturally captured the Republican president's ear. Democratic D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mr. Williams also delivered. And Mr. Moran fought like a ferocious tiger especially on behalf of low- to moderate-income wage earners during this crisis.
"I've been meeting with many of the workers and it's heartbreaking to see the situation they are in," Mr. Moran said yesterday during a telephone interview. "It's a desperate situation and I'd like to try to make them whole."
Most of the baggage handlers, cabbies, parking attendants and service workers earn an average of $7 an hour with no benefits. Mr. Moran said one skycap, who earns $2.13 an hour and is dependent on tips, told him he just couldn't put food on the table since the airport's closure.
Would that the D.C. Council rethink its legislation that provides $100 million in loan guarantees for businesses affected by the tragedy but set aside nothing for workers. D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, who also chairs the board of the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments, said she will try again to pull together a separate aid package for workers.
Of course, we can understand the trickle-down theory that argues if you help businesses stay afloat, you help workers stay employed. But how many workers will actually get their jobs back given the losses many business have suffered while forced to close? If, indeed, these workers do go back to work, when? What happens until they can recover?
"We've bailed out the people who invest their money [in the airline industry] but we haven't done enough for the people who invest their lives into it," Mr. Moran said.
The displaced workers bill provides some serious solutions that deserve serious consideration. It provides financial assistance after unemployment benefits are exhausted, training for alternative jobs and health care coverage to uninsured employees of the airline or related industries who lost their jobs as a result of the terrorist attack. The benefits for those who also work in businesses that supply goods or services to airlines or airports, such as the hospitality industry would be distributed in accordance with the Trade Adjustment Act.
Already, national leaders are devising a stimulus package designed to jump-start the nation's teetering economy; it includes raising the minimum wage. Why not a local stimulus package in the form of Mr. Moran's legislation geared to workers that will speed up the region's economic recovery, which suffered uniquely in the wake of the attacks and the airport's closing?
Mr. Moran, who has found a number of co-sponsors for the legislation, said "it's got a shot" at passing. Maybe it's a long shot, but a half loaf is better than no crumbs at all.
If consumer confidence is at issue, then what better way to restore confidence than restoring jobs or, at least, benefits and aid to those who could suffer their loss the least?
Since flight schedules are being restored in phases, no one knows for sure how long it will be before Reagan National is operating at full capacity if ever.
"This legislation is an important way to help these workers stay afloat during this hard time and undergo retraining so they and the entire airline industry can recover fully from the attack," Mr. Moran said.
When that day comes, I'll start performing my surprising hip-hip-hooray somersaults.
Adrienne T. Washington's e-mail address is [email protected]

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