Today, Congress continues to actively work on a third package of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) response legislation and an emergency aid package could pass in the coming days. APTA has been working to ensure that the federal government includes emergency aid to public transportation agencies and Amtrak to help offset the additional costs and lost revenue related to COVID-19.
This morning (March 22), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell circulated a draft bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (H.R. 748). At this point, there is not bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the draft bill. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi indicated this afternoon that the House would introduce its own COVID-19 response legislation tomorrow. The Senate is planning to begin procedural votes on the CARES Act tonight in the hopes of bringing the legislation to the Senate Floor tomorrow.
The CARES Act draft bill (Division B) includes $20 billion for public transit formula grants to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. The bill provides:
- $16 billion for urbanized area formula grants (49 U.S.C. § 5307); and
- $4 billion for rural area formula grants (49 U.S.C. § 5311).
The bill requires the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to apportion these funds (using FY 2020 apportionment formulas) within seven days of the date of enactment.
The bill also states that grant recipients should make every effort to appropriately adjust operations in response to reduced demand as a result of COVID-19.
Notwithstanding transit law limitations, these funds are expressly available for operating expenses to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19, including reimbursement for operating costs, lost revenue, the purchase of personal protective equipment, and applicable preventive maintenance (e.g., vehicle cleaning). These operating expenses are not required to be part of state-wide or metropolitan transportation improvement programs or state-wide or long-range transportation plans.
The bill prohibits FTA from waiving the prevailing wage and transit labor standards (49 U.S.C. § 5333) for these formula grants.
The CARES Act (Division B) also provides more than $1 billion for Amtrak grants to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. The bill provides:
- $492 million for the Northeast Corridor grants; and
- $526 million for the National Network grants.
The bill also provides that States shall not be required to pay Amtrak more than 80 percent for use of Amtrak facilities pursuant to section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) (P.L. 110-432, Division B). It sets aside $239 million of these funds to be available to Amtrak in lieu of these State-supported route payments.
The bill requires Amtrak to comply with prevailing wage and rail labor laws with these grant funds. The bill also requires the Secretary of Transportation to notify Congress each week for any Amtrak furloughs related to COVID-19. If Amtrak furloughs these employees, it is required to provide them the opportunity to be recalled when passenger rail service is restored.
Given that the immediate path forward on this legislation is unclear, we encourage you to continue to share your letters to your Congressional delegation and personal stories on social media.