Congress heard you: deal struck with $25 billion in emergency funding for transit


Early yesterday morning, congressional leaders and the White House agreed to a $2 trillion COVID-19 economic stabilization plan that includes $25 billion emergency direct assistance to transit agencies, at a time when agencies’ revenue is plummeting, as well as more than $1 billion for passenger rail. This is a huge victory, and it wouldn’t have been possible without your thousands of messages and calls to Congress and our letter to House and Senate leadership. But there’s still more work to do. 

A Chicago “L” platform. Photo by Paul Sableman on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

When the Senate first released a draft of its COVID-19 economic package, airlines got emergency funding. But public transportation—the bedrock of our transportation infrastructure that connects millions of Americans to jobs, schools, services and opportunities every single day—got nothing. But it didn’t stay that way for long. Thanks to an outpouring of advocacy, early yesterday morning Congress agreed to a deal that includes $25 billion in direct, emergency assistance to transit agencies. 

Without this infusion of emergency funding, transit would be unlikely to survive through the pandemic. We can’t afford for transit to stop runningespecially now, as transit plays a huge role in connecting millions of people to their jobs in healthcare, grocery stores, and other essential businesses. In fact, 36 percent of transit riders are workers in essential industries, such as nurses and medical technicians. And any long-term economic recovery will be nearly impossible without transit service to help people get back to work after this unprecedented crisis subsides.

This critical emergency funding would never have been included without your voices saying that “transit is essential.” Many of you were part of sending thousands of messages and calls to Congress through our action. Our letter to House and Senate leadership with the Union of Concerned Scientists was signed by 248 elected officials, local governments and organizations in less than 24 hours. 

The $25 billion will be given to transit agencies based on the existing formulas that are used to give out annual capital funds. The bill clarifies that these funds are intended specifically for operating expenses related to the coronavirus public health emergency beginning on January 20, 2020, and should be used for operating costs to maintain service, lost revenue due to the coronavirus emergency, as well as the purchase of personal protective equipment, and paying for the administrative leave of operations personnel due to loss of service. The $25 billion includes $13.9 billion for urban areas and $1.8 billion that will go to transit in rural areas, with additional funds for state of good repair and high density cities, largely in the northeast. Some have estimated the amounts potentially going to each city based on recent allocations, though stay tuned for concrete details. This post from Jeff Davis at Eno is a helpful breakdown of all transportation funding in the package. 

But we’re not done yet, and more will be needed. A new report from TransitCenter estimates that transit agencies will experience losses this year anywhere between $26-$38 billion—potentially much higher than the emergency funding in this deal. Transit agencies will need more operating funds to guarantee that they can run enough trains and buses to avoid overcrowding and maintain social distancing. We can’t put America’s frontline workers at increased risk. 

Congress is already considering another bill to stimulate the economy. We will continue to work hard to ensure that public transportation receives more operating support in this bill. 

We’ll have more information soon on how you can help guarantee that public transportation receives the funding it needs to connect Americans to jobs, services and opportunities now and when this pandemic is over. Keep in touch with us: Subscribe to our email list and follow us on Twitter.

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