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Chair Abigail Spanberger Opening Statement at Hearing The U.S. Wood Products Industry: Facilitating the Post COVID-19 Recovery

WASHINGTON House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry Chair Abigail Spanberger delivered the following statement at today's hearing titled “The U.S. Wood Products Industry: Facilitating the Post COVID-19 Recovery.”

[As prepared for delivery]

Good morning! Welcome to today’s hearing — “The U.S. Wood Products Industry: Facilitating the Post COVID-19 Recovery.” The U.S. wood products industry directly employs about 1 million people and contributes more than $5 billion dollars in state and local taxes. In my home of Virginia, we have 16 million acres of forested land, and forest-related businesses contribute $156 million to our state’s economy each year and support more than 27,000 jobs.

Like many industries, the wood products industry experienced severe and uneven impacts as a result of COVID-19. While some sectors of the industry maintained or even increased economic activity, many sectors have been negatively impacted through market pressures, supply chain interruptions, labor shortages, and transportation challenges — among other disruptions. These effects have rippled through the supply chain, in many cases adversely affecting landowners, harvesting and hauling businesses, processors, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers.

Independent reporting suggest economic losses for various sectors within the wood products industry have ranged up to 40 percent. American consumers also saw the pandemic’s impacts on the industry firsthand. For many consumers, the pulp and paper sector was top-of-mind during the widespread shortage of tissue products, while the lumber sector reported record high prices due to manufacturing and processing constraints.

In the wake of the pandemic, Congress provided relief to small businesses through various legislative packages. The Paycheck Protection Program authorized by the CARES Act and later extended in subsequent legislation, provided short-term low-interest loans to small businesses for payroll and operating costs. More recently, Congress authorized direct relief to the industry through the Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2021. The bill provides up to $200 million in relief to timber harvesting and hauling businesses who experienced a loss of at least 10% due to pandemic. Both the Ranking Member and I supported this effort and have written to the Biden Administration to request that relief be made available as soon as possible.

Yesterday, I was thrilled to see USDA announce that applications for these funds would go live July 22nd. I would like to thank Secretary Vilsack and all those at USDA for their work in getting these funds to those timber haulers and harvesters impacted by the pandemic. Our Subcommittee stands ready to support USDA as these funds are disbursed to make sure all those who need relief are able to access it.

As we turn the corner from the worst of the pandemic, Congress has an important opportunity before us, as we consider options for more resilient and climate smart infrastructure. Our forests — as well as the wood products they support — are critical green infrastructure that help sequester carbon while growing our economy. I am excited to hear from our witnesses about how Congress can support infrastructure policy that protects our forestland, expands reforestation efforts, provides incentives for the use of innovative wood products in construction like nanocellulose-infused concrete and cross-laminated timber that reduce the embodied carbon footprint of our buildings — all while expanding opportunities for rural communities and building more resilient supply chains in the industry.

I am also curious to hear from our witnesses today on the challenges they have experienced as a result of COVID-19, whether short term relief has been helpful, and how temporary relief could be better designed to weather economic downturns. Though the worst of COVID-19 is hopefully behind us, we must be prepared for the possibility of future disruptions. I also hope we can explore more durable policy options to ensure the industry can thrive well into the future.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today. With that I would like to recognize Ranking Member LaMalfa for any opening remarks he may have. Thank you.

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