Earlier today, Congressional leaders released H.R. 133, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021”. This Omnibus Appropriations bill includes COVID-19 emergency relief, annual government appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, tax extenders, and many other important provisions. The bill provides $14 billion in COVID-19 emergency funding for public transit and $1 billion for Amtrak. In annual appropriations, the bill provides $15.5 billion for public transportation and passenger rail, an increase of more than $100 million from FY 2020 enacted levels.
APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas issued a statement noting that the legislation is a critical step in supporting public transit agencies so they can survive and help our communities and nation recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic. Please click here to view the statement.
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the bill tonight. The Senate is expected to pass the bill later tonight and the President is expected to sign it.
More information about the public transportation and passenger rail provisions of the bill can be found below. Please click here to view the text of the bill.
COVID-19 Emergency Relief
The Consolidated Appropriations Act includes COVID-19 emergency funding in Division M, the “Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021”. The bill (Division M, Title IV) provides $14 billion of emergency public transit funding and $1 billion of emergency Amtrak funding.
A primary objective of the $14 billion of emergency transit funding is to ensure that public transit agencies receive sufficient funding under this bill, when combined with their CARES Act apportionments, to equal at least 75 percent of urbanized areas’ public transit operating costs. The transit funds provided under the bill are available for operating expenses related to the response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The federal share is 100 percent.
The bill distributes the emergency transit funds through several formula programs:
- $13.27 billion for 49 U.S.C. § 5307 grants (including the 49 U.S.C. § 5337 formula) to urbanized areas. The amounts made available for these grants, combined with CARES Act grants, may not exceed 75 percent of the urbanized areas’ 2018 operating costs. For any urbanized area for which the calculation exceeds 75 percent of the urbanized area’s operating costs, the Secretary of Transportation (Secretary) shall distribute excess funds to urbanized areas that did not reach the 75-percent operating cost threshold. The Secretary shall distribute the excess funds in the same proportion as the initial distribution. No recipient in an urbanized area may receive more than $4 billion from amounts made available by these grants, combined with CARES Act grants, until 75 percent of the funds provided to the recipient are obligated and the recipient certifies to the Secretary that additional funds are necessary to prevent layoffs or furloughs directly related to demonstrated COVID-19 revenue losses.
- $679 million for 49 U.S.C. § 5311 grants to rural areas. The amounts allocated to any State for these grants, combined with CARES Act grants, may not exceed 125 percent of the State’s combined 2018 rural operating costs of recipients and subrecipients. For any State for which the calculation exceeds 125 percent of the State’s combined rural operating costs, the Secretary shall distribute excess funds to States that did not reach the 125-percent operating cost threshold. The Secretary shall distribute the excess funds in the same proportion as the initial distribution.
- $50 million for 49 U.S.C. § 5310 grants for seniors and persons with disabilities.
The bill provides several additional conditions for the funding:
- To the maximum extent possible, these funds and CARES Act funds shall be directed to payroll and public transit operations (including payroll and expenses of private providers of public transportation).
- Operating expenses do not need to be included in a transportation improvement program, long-range transportation plan, statewide transportation improvement program, or statewide transportation plan.
- The federal share of § 5310 grants and any unobligated balances of § 5310 funds is 100 percent.
- Private providers of public transportation shall be considered eligible subrecipients under this bill and the CARES Act.
- The bill prohibits the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) from waiving the prevailing wage and transit labor standards (49 U.S.C. 5333) for these transit grants or CARES Act grants.
- The bill does not affect the ability of other government agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to provide other funds authorized by law.
The bill provides $1.0 billion for Amtrak grants to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19, including:
- $655 million for Northeast Corridor grants; and
- $345 million for National Network grants.
The bill sets aside $285 million to be available to Amtrak in lieu of commuter rail and State-supported route payments.
In addition, the bill prohibits Amtrak from waiving rail labor laws or Buy America and prohibits contracting out of any scope-covered work covered by an employee who was furloughed. The bill also directs Amtrak to use the funds to allow furloughed employees to be recalled when Amtrak restores service.
Non-Emergency Medical Transportation
The bill (Division CC, Title II, § 209) adds Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) to the list of mandated Medicaid benefits by codifying current Medicaid NEMT regulations. In addition to mandating the NEMT benefit, the bill requires the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to convene stakeholder meetings focusing on Medicaid program integrity issues, and other challenges in providing NEMT services. The bill also mandates that the Department of Health and Human Services assess the guidance that CMS provides to states on the federal requirements for NEMT. The Government Accountability Office is required to conduct a nationwide study on NEMT coverage to identify safeguards to prevent fraud and abuse in the program. Finally, the bill contains a provision that in the case of a State that exercises the option to establish an NEMT brokerage program, a State Medicaid agency may consult with relevant stakeholders, including public transportation providers.
FY 2021 Transportation Appropriations
The Consolidated Appropriations Act also contains all 12 FY 2021 appropriations bills, including the “Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” (THUD Appropriations bill). The THUD Appropriations bill (Division L, Title I) provides $13.0 billion for public transit and $2.6 billion for passenger rail grants. In total, the bill provides $15.5 billion for public transit and passenger rail, an increase of $100 million compared to the FY 2020 enacted level.
Funding Levels and Grant Awards
The legislation continues to provide General Fund appropriations greater than the amounts authorized in the FAST Act extension act. The bill includes an additional $516 million of General Fund appropriations, including $243 million for buses and bus facilities grants, $125 million for no- or low-emission bus grants, and $40 million for each of the state of good repair, rural area, and high-density state formula grant programs.
Further, the legislation provides $16.2 million to assist areas of persistent poverty for planning, engineering, or development of technical or financial plans for transit projects through a competitive grant program.
The bill provides $1 billion for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) (formerly TIGER) competitive grants for surface transportation projects, including public transportation and multi-modal projects. Up to 20 percent of these funds may be used for the subsidy and administrative costs of projects eligible for Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) or Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) federal credit assistance.
The bill also includes language blocking the Rostenkowski Test to prevent a $6 billion (or 60 percent) across-the-board cut of FY 2021 transit formula funds to each public transit agency. Although the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (P.L. 116-159) already blocked the Rostenkowski Test for FY 2021, it is encouraging to see this provision included in the THUD Appropriations bill.
Capital Investment Grants
The bill provides $2.0 billion for Capital Investment Grants (CIG), including $1.2 billion for New Starts, $525 million for Core Capacity projects, $200 million for Small Starts, and $100 million for the Expedited Project Delivery for CIG Pilot Program.
The bill prohibits the FTA from impeding or hindering a project from advancing or approving a project seeking a CIG federal share of more than 40 percent and from implementing any policies that require a CIG project to receive a medium or higher project rating before finalizing an environmental impact statement.
The bill also authorizes projects in the Expedited Project Delivery for CIG Pilot Program to be eligible for funding under the CIG program without further evaluation or rating.
The bill provides $2.6 billion for passenger rail investments, including $2 billion for Amtrak grants, $375 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grants, and $200 million for Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants.
The alternative fuel excise tax credit, which provides a $0.50 per gasoline gallon equivalent tax credit to transit agencies fueling their vehicles with compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas, and the alternative fuel refueling property credit are both extended to December 31, 2021. Both credits were scheduled to expire at the end of this year.