Language added to defense bill will close athletic shoe loophole
WATERVILLE, Maine (Tribune News Service) — New language in the National Defense Authorization Act will close the loophole that has allowed the Department of Defense to avoid buying U.S.-made athletic shoes for the military.
The change — which will eliminate cash allowances for training shoes to new recruits and be a boost to New Balance which employs 900 workers at three Maine shoe manufacturing plants — was announced in a press release Thursday from U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District.
“We have won a victory in the battle to grow and protect the 900 jobs in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway where hard working Mainers manufacture the highest quality shoes in the world,” Poliquin said in a news release. “This is a win for the American taxpayer as well because tax money should be spent with American workers and products, not foreign manufacturing, wherever possible. I will continue to do all I can to support Maine workers.”
Poliquin, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Massachusetts Rep. Niki Tsongas worked on changing the legislation, cosponsored the Stepping Up for American Workers and Troops Act, which requires the Department of Defense to follow the 2014 policy calling for the military to buy U.S.-made shoes.
In a separate release Thursday, state Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, applauded the change in policy.
“This bipartisan effort is a win for New Balance workers in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway,” McCabe said. “For too long, New Balance workers have been waiting for the military to fulfill its promise to our manufacturers. Two years ago, I saw the excitement at the Norridgewock factory after the Department of Defense announced that service members would wear American-made athletic footwear. Now they’ll have the chance to outfit them with some of best Maine-made shoes.”
The Berry Amendment, which was passed by Congress in 1941, requires the Department of Defense to buy, to the greatest extent possible, American-made clothing, textiles and more for U.S. soldiers. Since 2002 the DOD has circumvented the policy as it relates to athletic footwear by issuing cash allowances for athletic footwear, which has not been Berry Amendment-compliant, the release said.
New Balance developed a shoe last year that it says is 100 percent Berry compliant, and the Department of Defense in 2014 promised it would start issuing U.S.-made athletic shoes to new recruits rather than give them $80 vouchers for shoes. Poliquin, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, as well as the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation has increasingly pressured the defense department to adhere to the promise.
Collins Wednesday chided Secretary of Defense Asthon Carter for delaying the move during an Appropriations Committee hearing on the defense budget.
Poliquin’s release said that by issuing the vouchers rather than buying U.S.-made athletic shoes for military recruits, the defense department has spent approximately $180 million — “critical funds that could have gone to American jobs and manufacturing.”
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