Congress comes back in session this week facing a critical countdown that could result in American businesses losing access to the Federal Helium Reserve – by far, the largest single supply of helium in the nation. That’s because the federal government’s authority to sell helium from the Reserve ends on October 7, 2013, which means Congress needs to act before then to keep the reserve open – and American jobs from disappearing.
** Check out our focus on the helium reserve and see how much time is left for Congress to stop the supply shutdown. **
Let’s back up and give you a little history. The federal helium program started in 1925 to ensure supplies of helium to the government for defense, research, and medical purposes. The program has evolved and, in 1996, underwent its latest change when Congress passed the Helium Privatization Act. That law allowed the government to sell some of its helium supply to private companies, but placed an end date on that permission of October 7, 2013.
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Fast forward to today. Helium has become an indispensable element in the manufacture of many tech products – most especially semiconductors. The U.S. semiconductor industry employs almost 250,000 Americans with wages that average more than $120,000 a year. The Semiconductor Industry Association estimates that the industry supports more than a million additional jobs across the country. On top of the tech work, helium is a critical component for businesses throughout the economy, from defense to health care to energy. Jobs across these industries are at risk without continued access to the Federal Helium Reserve.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Congress has been working since the beginning of the year on reforms to the federal helium program, with the goal of enacting a reform bill before October 7 in order to allow for continued sales from the Reserve. Yet, what were once months before the deadline have now become weeks and soon, will be just days. The tech sector and our allies across the economic spectrum will continue to urge lawmakers to find a solution to extend access to the helium supply. The House of Representatives passed legislation this spring to do so, and a key Senate committee has cleared a similar bill. But that’s far from getting legislation to the president’s desk to become law.
Congress needs to act without further delay, while there is still time. The House and Senate should come together to forge a bipartisan solution to extend the sales from the Federal Helium Reserve, and incorporating reforms that stakeholders agree are necessary. That’s the best way to ensure a steady supply of helium, support hundreds of thousands of American jobs, and provide hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury through continued helium sales.