WASHINGTON – The increasingly long lines of traffic waiting to enter Buffalo at the Peace Bridge may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a House-Senate spending agreement that calls for the hiring of 2,000 additional border agents nationwide.
The deal, struck late Monday, will boost funding for Customs and Border Protection – the agency that manages border crossings – by $220 million through the rest of the 2014 federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Some $165.7 million of that will be devoted to hiring and training of those new border agents.
Combined with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson’s commitment last week to add agents at the Peace Bridge if money becomes available, the spending deal means that the worst will soon be over for people crossing into Buffalo from Canada, according to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who prodded Johnson into agreeing to add agents to the Buffalo border.
In addition, Schumer said the additional funding will also provide a boost to a pilot project in which much of the U.S.-bound cargo at the Peace Bridge will be pre-cleared on the Canadian side.
“This boost in funding, combined with Secretary Johnson’s commitment to send new agents to the Peace Bridge, will speed commerce, grow jobs and ensure that the preclearance pilot moves forward at full steam,” Schumer said.
Schumer has been pressing for relief at the Peace Bridge for more than a month.
And the customs agency itself acknowledged the problem at the Peace Bridge, releasing statistics showing that it took an average of 5.9 minutes for passengers to cross the border in the government’s 2013 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. In fiscal 2012, that wait was a mere 3.1 minutes.
The budget deal announced Monday, which Congress is expected to pass later this week, would solve such problems by rolling back parts of last year’s “sequestration” budget cuts, which prompted reductions in government operations in many agencies.
“The Peace Bridge is an economic artery for Western New York, pumping in vital investment and job growth; but CBP understaffing has blocked those benefits by closing lanes, increasing congestion at the bridge and slowing down economic activity,” Schumer said.
While Johnson has committed to increase staffing at the Peace Bridge, the budget deal does not include site-by-site specifics on where the 2,000 new border agents will work.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, also lauded the increase in border agents.
“This economic benefits of sufficiently staffing the border and supporting the efficient flow of people and goods cannot be understated,” Higgins said. “This budget will complement other efforts already underway to alleviate congestion and add certainty at our border crossings.”