Understanding the Impacts of the Federal Budget on Safe Routes to School

Margo Pedroso

Latebreaking news: On Monday, April 29, the President will announce that Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx is his selection to replace Ray LaHood as US Secretary of Transportation. In his time as mayor, Foxx has worked hard to expand the city's streetcar transportation options. We believe his perspective as mayor will be helpful as we continue to push for transportation decisions to be made more at the local level. Congratulations Mayor Foxx! The Senate still has to approve the nomination before Foxx will take office, which could take a few months yet. Now, back to the original focus of this blog.

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It’s springtime in Washington, DC, which means reams of paper, hours and hours of hearings and many months dedicated to setting the annual spending levels for federal government agencies (called appropriations). This process is off to a late start this year, as Congress just completed the process for fiscal year 2013 in late March—halfway through the federal fiscal year—and was dealing with the “sequester” cuts. The President also submitted his proposed budget for FY2014 on April 10, two months later than usual. 

On the transportation side, the President’s budget proposes full funding ($50.1 billion) for all transportation programs authorized under the recent MAP-21 transportation law.  This includes Transportation Alternatives program, in which Safe Routes to School projects are eligible, which would be funded at $819.9 million for FY2014.  This is a small increase of approximately $10 million from FY2013.  The President’s budget also proposes $50 million in immediate funding for infrastructure investments, particularly repair projects, that can be implemented quickly.

While the proposed budget is good news for implementation of current transportation spending, the Congressional Budget Office has assessed the dire future for transportation spending. The amount of funds taken into the Highway Trust Fund from the federal gas tax are so much lower than what Congress has allocated for transportation, that starting in FY2015, Congress will either have to increase the federal gas tax by 10 cents per gallon or significantly cut spending. These funding challenges will most certainly be a critical focus for the reauthorization of MAP-21, which expires September 30, 2014.

On the health side, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have invested in a number of initiatives that support healthy built environment. The President’s budget proposes level funding of approximately $3 million for the CDC National Center for Environmental Health’s (NCEH) built environment program. This is the first time in several years that the President’s budget has proposed funding for this program and we are glad to see a renewed commitment from the Administration for this program. While the funding level is small, the NCEH built environment program has a big impact in ensuring that the CDC recognizes and supports the linkages between people’s health and their built environment.

Another important program at the CDC is the Community Transformation Grants (CTG). Many communities across the country are using these grants to create healthier communities—including promoting investments in Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking projects and programs. The President’s budget proposes just $146 million for CTG in FY2014, which is comparable to the FY2013 amount, but down significantly from the $226 million level in FY2012. In addition, the Administration recently diverted one-third of the 2013 Prevention and Public Health fund dollars, which funds CTG and other prevention programs, to non-prevention uses. We are working with other organizations to show our support for preserving Prevention Fund dollars for its intended uses, including CTG.

Finally, we continue to monitor implementation of MAP-21 within the US Department of Transportation. The final Transportation Alternatives guidance is still not yet completed, and USDOT continues to work internally to set required performance measures.  We will pass along an analysis of these provisions as soon as they are made public. We also recently commented on a proposed rule that could alleviate some aspects of the regulatory burden on Safe Routes to School projects. We also do have good implementation news from a few other states to share.

  • In Idaho, advocates worked hard to prevent the state from transferring out half of its Transportation Alternatives funds, and were successful. The Idaho Transportation Board has now authorized the use of all its Transportation Alternatives funds, so now advocates turn to how these funds will be used for bicycling, walking and Safe Routes to School projects. 
  • In Michigan, the DOT will be tapping into $700,000 in tolling funds this year to make up the required 20% match for Safe Routes to School projects to ensure that low-income communities can access these funds. They join Ohio and Florida in this approach.