President Joe Biden puts on his face mask after speaking during an event to mark Equal Pay Day in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The domestic textiles industry has hailed the award of government contracts to Parkdale Mills and Ferrara Manufacturing Inc. to buy as many as 22.2 million masks made in the U.S. 

The contracts, unveiled in late March, are the latest chapter in the Biden administration’s stated goal to prioritize domestic manufacturing as local production recovers from the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “The masks will be made in America with American-sourced supplies and provided to essential workers at community health clinics, food pantries, and soup kitchens across the nation,” according to the Workers United union that represents workers at Ferrara Manufacturing in New York. 

The contracts also come at a time that the Biden administration has encouraged states to implement, or in some cases reimplement, mask mandates as the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. remains high. In the past day alone, there have been more than 79,029 new reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and 1,064 deaths from the illness, according to the Johns Hopkins University statistics.   

“The U.S. textile industry has been at the forefront of the efforts to produce lifesaving PPE since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago,” said National Council of Textile Organizations chief executive officer Kim Glas.  

“To that end, the industry has produced over a billion lifesaving PPE and other medical products over the last year. 

“The fact that these awards will support more than 5,000 American workers and our domestic supply chains represents an important signal from the administration that it is serious about bolstering the American manufacturing base,” she added. 

The moves echo the Biden administration’s agenda enshrined in his “Build Back Better” program, in which the administration has indicated policies to boost federal procurement of domestically made products, and to build up “critical supply chains” in the U.S. 

“U.S. manufacturing was the Arsenal of Democracy in World War II, and must be part of the Arsenal of American Prosperity today, helping fuel an economic recovery for working families,” according to the agenda outlined on the Build Back Better website. 

The NCTO has voiced its support for investing in U.S. supply chains of essential products including personal protective equipment, and to potentially incentivize the private sector to buy American-made PPE. 

“It is critical that the administration and Congress enact policies to help onshore personal protective equipment and other products to build a permanent domestic supply chain for future crises,” Glas said. 

“The U.S. textile and apparel industry needs long-term government contracts to reshore a critical global supply chain that failed our nation when it needed it most,” she added. “These contracts are a step in the right direction.” 

Labor leaders have lauded the development as a boost for American workers.  

“The Biden administration has proven today that when the federal government leads a key marketplace as a buyer, with the right standards, American companies and workers can meet the demand, stabilize the economy, create good jobs, and propel the recovery forward,” said Lynne Fox, president of Workers United. “So I know I speak for our members in saying that we are honored to partner in helping serve our nation’s ongoing crisis.”

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