House Unveils $3 Trillion Relief Bill With Nothing for Amtrak
May 13, 2020
U.S. House Unveils $3 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill With $16 Billion for Transit, Nothing for Amtrak
House Democrats’ unveiled a $3 trillion coronavirus response that would, among other things, send $1 trillion to state and local governments and provide $15.75 billion for struggling transit agencies. That amount is well short of the $23.8 billion identified by the American Public Transit Association (APTA) and fails to include any of the $1.63 billion that Amtrak has said it will need to supplement its FY2021 federal grant. Senate Republicans were swift to declare the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800), which would be the fourth in a series of COVID-19 emergency funding bills, “dead on arrival.”
Amtrak is asking for $1.633 billion on the top of the original $2.04 billion FY2021 grant request that was transmitted earlier this year, which includes:
- $1.145 billion for the NEC and National Network
- $260 million for Sec. 209 State Partners
- $229 million Sec. 212 Commuter Partners
Rail Passengers has launched a campaign to ask the House and Senate to provide the necessary funding for passenger rail to return pre-COVID 19 levels of service and boosts the funding for transit to the levels identified by APTA in a survey of agencies ridership and revenue shortfalls.
“We appreciate the $16 billion that the House has proposed for transit,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “However, we are asking Congress to provide more funding for transit and Amtrak—for the simple fact that it’s what these operators will need to weather these extraordinary hardships. It doesn’t make sense to pass a $3 trillion relief bill, but then balk at the $1.6 billion price tag to ensure the return of fully functioning intercity and commuter railroads in the U.S.”
Infrastructure a No-Show
While there had been big talk from both House leadership and the White House about the desire to include an infrastructure component in the next round of COVID-19. However, that was sidelined in the House Democratic proposal. Instead, the HEROES Act focuses on addressing the dramatic increase in unemployed Americans and the budgetary needs of states and local governments, who have seen a sharp drop-off in tax revenue.
Rail Passengers has been collecting a database of passenger rail projects that could advance relatively quickly if funding became available (located at RailPassengers.org/COVID19). We will continue to advocate for these projects in the Senate, and in the event that the House advances an ambitious surface transportation program, which is rumored to be close.
The HEROES Act does have a number of transportation-specific set-asides and policies.
- $15.75 billion for operating and capital assistance grants to support transit agencies:
- $11.75 billion will be distributed by formula to 14 large metropolitan transit systems; and
- $4 billion for Emergency Relief grants, to be distributed through a grant program overseen by the USDOT.
- Standardizes worker and passenger protections for large transit agencies in urbanized areas with at least 500,000 individuals, requiring passengers and workers wear masks, and standardizing requirements for disinfection of equipment and facilities.
$15 billion for grants to State, Tribal, and Territorial Departments of Transportation.
- Directs Amtrak to require passengers and employees to wear masks or protective face coverings while onboard an Amtrak train.
- Amtrak must also provide masks or protective face coverings, gloves, hand sanitizer, and wipes to all employees whose job responsibilities include passenger interaction.
- Directs Amtrak to ensure that trains, stations, and enclosed facilities are frequently cleaned and disinfected, and that employees who do this work are provided masks or protective face coverings and gloves.
Protects the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Account from sequestration cuts and extends the additional enhanced benefits, ensuring unemployed railroad workers are granted the same benefits provided to other out-of-work Americans.
$75 million for additional janitorial services at air traffic control towers and other FAA facilities.
"The National Association of Railroad Passengers has done yeoman work over the years and in fact if it weren’t for NARP, I'd be surprised if Amtrak were still in possession of as a large a network as they have. So they've done good work, they're very good on the factual case."
Robert Gallamore, Director of Transportation Center at Northwestern University and former Federal Railroad Administration official, Director of Transportation Center at Northwestern University
November 17, 2005, on The Leonard Lopate Show (with guest host Chris Bannon), WNYC New York.