Last week, Congress passed the CARES Act, which was the third in a series of new laws aimed at addressing the wide-ranging impact of Coronavirus. The $2.2 trillion bill included a series of emergency relief measures addressing people, affected industry, the healthcare system, and more.
Specific to transportation, CARES includes $25 billion that will flow out to transit providers across the country. We joined an effort led by Transportation for America to advocate for this, given that transit agencies have suffered significant loss of ridership and revenue while still maintaining service for essential workers. This emergency transit funding can be used for a wide range of impacts from Coronavirus, including operating costs to maintain service, to replace lost revenue, to purchase protective equipment for transit workers, and to pay for leave for workers unable to work due to service cuts. Depending on the length of this crisis, more funds may be needed to keep transit running; we will continue to partner with Transportation for America as new needs arise. Amtrak also received an additional $1 billion to help address Coronavirus losses, prevention and responses.
The CARES Act also includes a number of provisions that will be helpful to nonprofits; we cover that in a separate blog post.
Looking ahead to what else is needed, many in Congress have started discussing the need for a fourth piece of legislation to help the country and the economy recover. And, infrastructure has come up in many conversations—including surface transportation but also water, airports, broadband, and more. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chair Sen. Barrasso (R-WY), House Transportation & Infrastructure chair Rep. DeFazio (D-OR), and House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) have stated their interest in including infrastructure in the next recovery package. President Trump also tweeted his support for a $2 trillion infrastructure investment, pointing out that the low interest rates make it an ideal time to invest in infrastructure (and the jobs that would be needed to implement projects). However, Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) and some others have cautioned about moving forward for the time being, wanting to wait and see how the CARES Act impacts the country.
Given that the biggest hurdle to passing a surface transportation bill is identifying the funding needed to make up the shortfall in the federal gas tax, including either the legislation itself or funding to allow a surface transportation bill to move forward would be a good path forward. The Senate already has a draft of the “highway” portion of a transportation bill, which included a significant jump for the Transportation Alternatives Program and new funding for improving safety for people biking and walking. On the House side, Chairman DeFazio is a big supporter of biking and walking, and we have a number of pieces of legislation introduced to expand upon the successes in the Senate bill. We understand that the committee staff is working quickly to try and draft a surface transportation bill so it is ready for any recovery bill.
We are adapting to talking to Congressional staffers only by phone and email, rather than visiting Capitol Hill, and will continue to be talking with legislators to push for more funding and support for biking, walking and Safe Routes to School. Many communities are seeing increases in biking and walking as people seek out opportunities for exercise, or as an important transportation option for those still needing to get to work or other essential services. We hope that the next transportation bill will continue that momentum.