Today (March 6, 2021), the U.S. Senate passed an amended version of H.R. 1319, the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021”, by a vote of 50-49. The bill provides $30.5 billion in critical COVID-19 emergency funding to help public transit agencies continue to provide a lifeline to essential workers, ensure Americans can get to vaccine distribution sites, and advance communities’ efforts across the country to rebuild our nation’s economy. Senators filed several amendments to cut, transfer, or eliminate the emergency public transit and Amtrak funding. Very few of these amendments received roll call votes and none of them passed.
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to consider the amended bill the week of March 8. Assuming the House passes the bill without further change, the bill will be sent to the President and he is expected to sign it.
H.R. 1319, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (As Passed by the Senate)
H.R. 1319, as passed by the U.S. Senate, provides $30.5 billion of emergency public transit funding and $1.7 billion of emergency Amtrak funding. These funds are available through fiscal year 2024.
A primary objective of the $30.5 billion of emergency transit funding is to ensure that public transit agencies receive sufficient funding under this bill, when combined with their prior COVID-19 transit allocations pursuant to the CARES Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), to equal 132 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. Except for the Capital Investment Grant (CIG) funds, these emergency funds shall be directed to payroll and operations of public transportation (including payroll and expenses of private providers of public transportation) unless the recipient certifies to the Secretary that the recipient has not furloughed any employees. The federal share is 100 percent.
The bill distributes the overwhelming majority of the emergency transit funds through several formula programs:
The bill also provides $2.21 billion for operating assistance grants to eligible recipients or subrecipients that, because of COVID-19, require additional assistance for costs related to operations, personnel, cleaning, sanitization, and debt service payments incurred to maintain operations and avoid layoffs and furloughs. Applicants must provide estimates of financial need; data on reductions in farebox or other local revenue; a spending plan for such funds; and demonstration of expenditure of more than 90 percent of COVID-19 funds available to the applicant in fiscal year (FY) 2020 (i.e., the CARES Act). The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) shall evaluate grant requests based on the level of financial need demonstrated. The demonstrated need includes future financial need to maintain service as a percentage of 2018 operating costs that has not been replaced by the funds made available by the other grants of H.R. 1319 or prior COVID-19 legislation (i.e., the CARES Act and CRRSAA). The bill requires FTA to issue a Notice of Funding Opportunity for these operating assistance grants within 180 days of the date of enactment of the Act.
The bill provides that 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.
H.R. 1319 provides $1.675 billion for Capital Investment Grants under 49 U.S.C. § 5309. In particular, the bill provides $1.425 billion for specific New Start and Core Capacity projects. It provides $1.25 billion to CIG project sponsors that have an existing Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) (i.e., New Start or Core Capacity projects) and received a FY 2019 or FY 2020 CIG allocation. It distributes the funds proportionally based on the non-federal share to qualified project sponsors. Separately, the bill provides $175 million to CIG project sponsors that have an existing FFGA that received a CIG allocation prior to FY 2019. However, no project may receive more than 40 percent of the additional allocation of $175 million (i.e., $70 million). If a project exceeds the 40 percent threshold, the excess funds are distributed proportionally based on the non-federal share to qualified project sponsors that did not exceed the threshold. Projects with grant agreements that are open for revenue service are not eligible for these CIG funds. Further, these emergency funds will not be counted toward the maximum federal financial assistance of the projects. Based on APTA’s analysis, there are 23 projects that will receive funding under this provision. Please click here for APTA’s List of CIG Projects Eligible for Funding under the Senate Amendment to H.R. 1319, American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
The House-passed version of H.R. 1319 allowed for projects in the Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program to be eligible for funding. This specific provision was dropped from the Senate-passed version of the bill because it was subject to a Senate point of order under the Byrd rule.
In addition, the bill provides $250 million for Small Start projects that are a recipient of a CIG allocation or an applicant in the project development phase. The funds will not be counted toward the maximum federal financial assistance of the projects.
Finally, H.R. 1319 provides $100 million for grants to bus operators that partner with recipients or subrecipients under 49 U.S.C. § 5311(f), and $25 million for planning grants under 49 U.S.C. § 5307 regarding planning to restore service.
H.R. 1319 provides $1.7 billion for Amtrak grants to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19, including:
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 sets aside $166 million for Amtrak to restore service on long-distance routes and to recall and manage furloughed employees.
House Committee on Appropriations and Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Announce Congressionally Designated Projects for Upcoming Bills
On February 26, Committee on Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro announced that the Committee will accept Community Project Funding requests (i.e., earmarks) from Members of Congress for the upcoming FY 2022 appropriations bills. Each Member of Congress will be limited to 10 Community Project Funding requests. To be considered for inclusion, Members of Congress must show that a project has community support and submit a financial disclosure statement demonstrating no financial interest in the project. In addition, the Appropriations Committee has included other reforms to ensure transparency and accountability, including a ban on allocating funding directly to for-profit recipients and early public disclosure of projects to be funded. For more information on the Community Project Funding process, please see the House Appropriations Committee Guidelines on FY2022 Community Project Funding.
In addition, on March 3, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR) and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairwoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) issued a press release announcing that Members of Congress will be able to submit requests for highway and transit project designations in the next surface transportation authorization bill. The Committee is expected to issue guidance on this process later this month.
APTA encourages you to work with your Members of Congress directly to identify potential projects for inclusion in either the FY 2022 appropriations bill or in any surface transportation legislation. At this time, neither the Senate nor House Republicans have agreed to restore earmarking. APTA staff will provide more information regarding the earmark process as it becomes available.
APTA Urges FTA to Rescind Changes to Risk Assessment Process of Capital Investment Grants Program
On March 5, APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas sent a letter to Acting Administrator Nuria Fernandez urging FTA to rescind changes to the CIG risk assessment process instituted by the prior Administration in June 2018. The prior Administration made two significant changes to the risk assessment process: (1) conducting the risk assessment prior to entry into the engineering phase; and (2) increasing the cost probability threshold from 50 percent to 65 percent. APTA expressed deep concern with these policy changes at the time. APTA’s Recommendations on Surface Transportation Law specifically call for repeal of these policies.