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Opinion: Better Broadband Will Boost Biden Relief’s Impact

Broadband infrastructure is a need that doesn't always receive the attention of other issues like decaying roads or water lines, but in Western New York, it represents a bridge to a brighter future.

(TNS) — Winston Churchill was quoted as saying: "If you put two economists in a room, you get two opinions, unless one of them is  Lord Keynes , in which case you get three opinions."

President Biden  signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act into law on Thursday. There is no shortage of opinions among economists about what the package's long-term effects will be. Will it drive up the national debt to unsustainable levels? Cause inflation? Will people getting stimulus checks spend the money or park it in savings? Practitioners of "the dismal science" all have different answers.

We share some of the reservations, but the money — greater in scope than the New Deal — has the potential to transform this region for the better. A Buffalo News report calculated the program will pump $1.15 billion into the Buffalo Niagara economy. In other words, a new " Buffalo billion."

Unlike the New York State development program with that name, the Biden rescue plan puts the biggest chunk of money directly into consumers' hands. When those at the lower end of the economic rung receive money they tend to spend it, meaning it goes directly to stimulating our economy.

The federal plan goes far beyond checks to individuals, of course. The News reported this week that the bill will bring $775.41 million to counties, cities and towns in our region, including $350.05 million for the City of Buffalo, $178.18 million for Erie County and $59.48 million for the City of Niagara Falls. School districts will also receive millions.

The local aid comes with certain parameters. In addition to rebuilding aging sewer lines or water systems, the bill supports significant investment in broadband technology. That's a need that doesn't always receive the attention of infrastructure issues like decaying roads or water lines, but in Buffalo Niagara it represents a bridge to a brighter future.

Rep.  Brian Higgins , D- Buffalo, spoke to The News this week about the importance of bringing 5G — the fifth-generation mobile network — to underserved parts of Buffalo.

A person living in Orchard Park might have fast 5G now, Higgins said, "but if you live in the Broadway- Fillmore neighborhood, your life is very different."

Between the aid coming to the city and the millions headed to the Buffalo Public Schools, Higgins wants to be part of an aggressive effort to build out the region's broadband capacity. The congressman is eager to work with County Executive  Mark Poloncarz , Mayor  Byron W. Brown  and other community leaders, including M&T  Bank Chairman  and CEO  René Jones .

M&T is creating a technology hub in  Seneca One  tower, where it hopes to attract other tenants to the Doug Jemal property. Jones knows that expanded broadband in Western New York neighborhoods would aid with workforce development and finding a new talent pipeline.

Once the holes in local budgets are filled and individuals given a reprieve from some of their financial worries, our broadband infrastructure stands as one of the best ways to invest in changing lives and extending the reach of Buffalo's renaissance.

Critics of Biden's relief package argue that it will send money to people who don't need it, money that the government must borrow. While the pandemic put a crushing blow on many businesses in our region — particularly hotels, sports and cultural attractions, restaurants and bars, casinos and tourism-related businesses — there were plenty of Americans who did fine economically in the past year. Many white-collar workers were able to do their jobs remotely and save money on commuting and other expenses.

Individuals whose adjusted gross income is $75,000 or below, and married couples making $150,000 or below, are eligible for the full $1,400 benefit — $2,800 for couples. Those figures are a reasonable way to prime the economic pump for when enough Covid vaccinations are delivered to have most of society up and running.

The federal supplement to state unemployment benefits remains at $300, but was extended by 25 weeks, to Sept. 6. Cushioning the blow for the unemployed is not only humane, it is also money that is generally injected right into the local economy through spending.

The American Rescue Plan achieves the new president's goal of "going big" to help America recover from the Covid recession. It also challenges local policymakers to stretch their imaginations on how to get the maximum returns on billion-dollar investments.

(c)2021 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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