Democrats representing Maryland in Congress are urging President Donald Trump and General Motors to reopen a shuttered plant in White Marsh to manufacture ventilators needed to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
In the letters signed Tuesday, and addressed to Trump and GM CEO Mary Barra, seven members of the House of Representatives and both Maryland’s senators, pushed GM to use the facility in fulfilling a recent contract to produce 30,000 ventilators awarded under the Defense Production Act.
“As we look around the country at places that GM could utilize … White Marsh is exactly the kind of location that would be a good match,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen said on a conference call.
The request from Maryland lawmakers follows on the heels of a similar appeal made by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski. The county executive also contacted the county’s federal lawmakers, calling on them to advocate for using the former GM plant to manufacture ventilators.
A spokesman for Olszewski said Wednesday that the Trump administration did not respond to the county executive’s letter.
In their letters to Trump and Barra, lawmakers contended that reopening the plant to make ventilators makes sense in terms of logistics and geography. Prior to its closure the White Marsh plant “employed hundreds of workers producing complex machinery.”
“The federal government’s recent contract with GM provides you with an opportunity to utilize these workers’ skills. We urge you to use your authority under the Defense Protection Act to reopen the plant with the highest safety standards and put these employees back to work,” according to the letter.
In late November 2018 General Motors announced plans to close the facility in White Marsh that produced transmissions and electric motors. At the time of the plants closing GM reported it had 253 hourly and 57 salaried employees at the plant.
GM opened the facility in 2000, and in early 2010 expanded the plant. The automaker invested $246 million to build an addition so electric drives for hybrid vehicles could be manufactured in White Marsh.
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, GM received a $105 million grant from the federal economic stimulus to boost production at the plant. Maryland also chipped in $4.5 million and Baltimore County pledged as much as $6 million in grants and $150,000 for training.
GM, however, closed the plant along with roughly 53 others as the Trump administration ramped up tariffs on products made in China, which increased the cost of making cars in America.
“I’m disappointed in GM and it’s not, from my perspective, the way things were supposed to work out given the tax cuts, and policies that we’re seeing out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. I thought we were supposed to have jobs, and when we introduced tariffs it was to increase jobs … it may have been a while since I was in Econ 101, but I remember that trade wars aren’t good,” then-Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler said.
Ventilators remain among the most needed medical equipment as the number of sick in Maryland and across the state swells. Since the first three cases of COVID-19 in Maryland were recorded in early March 14,774 residents have contracted the illness, and 631 people have died.
Van Hollen estimated the nation will need at least 1 million ventilators to get through the crisis. The nation, he said, continues to face a shortage of personal protective equipment and tests for the virus.
Ramping up the testing, Sen. Ben Cardin said, is the key to loosening “stay at home” orders that have hurt businesses. The nation’s still a long way from getting to that point, Cardin said on Tuesday during a Greater Baltimore Committee webinar.
“If you want to get back to some sense of normalcy we have to dramatically increase our testing,” Cardin said. “Right now we are woefully behind, nationally, when it comes to our testing capacity.”