$3 Trillion House Bill Up for Vote Today; Includes Massive Muni Aid, Frontline Transportation Worker Pay Subsidies

$3 Trillion House Bill Up for Vote Today; Includes Massive Muni Aid, Frontline Transportation Worker Pay Subsidies

May 15, 2020  | Jeff Davis

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote late today on a $3+ trillion coronavirus response bill drafted by House Democrats. The bill is H.R. 6800 (bill text here, summary here), and before passage, the bill will be modified by an extensive set of revisions approved by the House Rules Committee yesterday evening.

Democrats regard this bill as “phase 4” of Congressional response to the novel coronavirus, after the phase 3 “CARES Act” (an acronym for “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security”) enacted March 27 and a “phase 3.5” plus-up of CARES enacted April 24. As introduced, the new bill also had a compassionate acronym – it was the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act” (HEROES). But, for reasons unknown, that set of revisions to the bill approved last night struck the acronym and retitled the bill in lowercase as the plain old “Heroes Act.”

Unlike the previous coronavirus bills on which the House has voted, this one has not been pre-negotiated with the Senate or the White House. Instead, it represents House Democrats’ attempt to shift the framing of whatever the next coronavirus law will eventually be (and everyone agrees that Congress will pass more legislation and more funding on this subject, eventually) in a more progressive and free-spending direction. So, while the funding levels in this bill are almost certain to be reduced significantly in whatever the final law winds up being, and many of its policies won’t be enacted this  year, it does represent a public starting point for negotiations with Republicans.

H.R. 6800 will also be the first bill that the House will consider under proposed new rules to allow proxy voting on the floor of the House (something that has never been done before in the long history of Congress since 1789). If the House passes H.Res. 965 this afternoon (resolution text here and summary here), a physically absent House member will be allowed to submit a letter to the Clerk allowing another member to cast their vote on the floor until further notice. A member who is physically present will be allowed to cast the proxy vote of up to 10 absent members.

The main features of H.R. 6800 include the following (page numbers are to text in the introduced bill):

  • $540 billion for general-purpose revenue replacement grants to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and Indian tribes (pp. 22-27).
  • $375 billion for grants to cities and counties for the same (pp. 27-33).
  • $100 billion for health care providers (pp. 87-88).
  • $100 billion for emergency assistance to help low-income Americans pay their rent (p. 136).
  • $90 billion in education aid to state and local governments (pp. 88-96).
  • $75 billion for coronavirus testing and contact tracing (p. 88).
  • $75 billion to help prevent homeowner mortgage defaults (p. 21).

Plus another $170 billion or so in other appropriations, of which $15.75 billion is for aid to mass transit systems and $15 billion is for aid to state highway departments.

And that’s just Division A of the bill (for Appropriations) – there are 19 other divisions in the 1,815-page bill, based on elements under the jurisdiction of House committees other than Appropriations. Those include:

  • A second round of $1,200 per person checks ($2,400 for joint filers), but this time, there are also $1,200 checks per dependent up to a maximum of 3 dependents (up from $500 per dependent under the CARES Act). The CARES checks cost $293 billion, and the increase in the dependent amount would make this round cost even more.
  • $180 billion of federal subsidies for premium pay of an extra $13 per hour for front-line workers (the “Heroes” for which the bill is entitled), including transportation workers as defined on pp. 1540-1543.
  • $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Profound changes to multiemployer pension plans in Division N of the bill.
  • And much, much more!

However, this is Eno Transportation Weekly, not Eno General Government Weekly, so we are confining our analysis to parts of the bill that pertain to transportation generally. In this issue, we also have the following articles:

But here is some discussion of the general municipal aid and frontline worker grant programs that do have some pertinence to transportation.

$500 billion for state governments. The bill appropriates $540 billion for “making payments to States, territories, and Tribal governments to mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease” of which $20 billion is for U.S. territories, $20 billion for Indian tribes, and the rest for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is in addition to the $112 billion provided for a similar purpose by the CARES Act. (CARES provided $150 billion for states, territories, tribes and DC, but also allowed local governments to claim some of that directly, and as a result, only $111.8 billion went to the state governments.)

The bill states that entities receiving this aid “shall only use such amounts to respond to, mitigate, cover costs or replace foregone revenues not projected on January 31, 2020 stemming from the public health emergency, or its negative economic impacts, with respect to the Coronavirus Disease” and gives the Inspector General of the Treasury Department broad authority to claw money back from states if he determines that a state has failed to comply with that proviso.

But that is the only restriction on the use of the money, and state governments can use it to backstop revenue losses in their transportation funds or their general funds, as they see fit.

The money is to be delivered to states in two tranches: half up front, and half in April 2021. The following table shows actual CARES Act distributions to states (excluding money claimed directly by localities) and the estimated Heroes Act distribution provided by the House Appropriations Committee:

$375 billion for local governments. The House bill appropriates $375 billion “For making payments to metropolitan cities, counties, and other units of general local government to mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease.” The money would be split 50-50 between cities and counties.

As with the state aid, the only real restriction on the use of the money is that it can only go “to respond to, mitigate, cover costs or replace foregone revenues not projected on January 31, 2020 stemming from the public health emergency, or its negative economic impacts, with respect to the Coronavirus Disease” and the Treasury IG is empowered to take money back if not used for that purpose.

As with the state aid, the local money is to be paid in two tranches. Two-thirds of the money is to go out immediately, and the other one-third in late April 2021. The $375 billion is to be divided as follows (each division below is subject to the same 2/3 now, 1/3 later allocation):

  • $131.25 billion “for making payments to metropolitan cities and other units of general local government” allocated under the formula under the HUD Community Development Fund formula in 42 U.S.C. §5306(b).
  • $56.25 billion to states to pass through “for use by units of general local government, other than counties or parishes” in areas not entitled to funding under the HUD CDF formula, “in an amount which bears the same proportion to the total amount provided under this sub-paragraph as the total population of such units of general local government within the State bears to the total population of all such units of general local government in all such States.”
  • $187.5 billion “directly to counties…in an amount which bears the same proportion to the total amount provided under this paragraph as the relative population of each county bears to the total population of all such entities.”

Premium pay for frontline workers, including transportation workers. Division Q of the House bill (beginning on page 1527) establishes a “COVID-19 Heroes Fund” that gives the overall bill its name and endows the fund with an appropriation of $180 billion. The funds are to be used immediately to provide grants to employers who will then use the money to pay “essential workers’ an additional $13 per hour premium pay for work performed from January 27, 2020 (and retroactive to that date) up to 60 days after the end of the coronavirus health emergency.

The total amount of premium pay that any employee can receive is capped at $10,000 for any worker making up to $200,000 per year (and capped at $5,000 for any worker making over $200K).

Essential work cannot include telework and must involve interaction with others or with objects handled by others. In addition, the definition of essential work is restricted to 33 enumerated areas that are defined in pages 1535-1547 of the bill. These include first responders, health care workers, grocery, restaurant, and food production workers, and transportation work as defined below:

(I) any services in public transportation, as defined in section 5302(14) of title 49, United States Code;

(II) any private transportation of people, such as transportation provided by air, rail, bus, taxicab, personal car or truck, non-motorized vehicle, or otherwise, including all services performed by individuals working in or on such vehicles, vehicle depots, or transit facilities;

(III) any private transportation of goods in bulk, including transportation via heavy or light truck, rail, air, or otherwise;

(IV) any public or private transportation of mail or packages;

(V) any private transportation of food or other goods to individuals, including in a personal car or truck, non-motorized vehicle, or otherwise;

(VI) any services in passenger rail transportation, including commuter rail, intercity passenger rail, or Amtrak, including services performed by employees of contractors of such entities;

(VII) any services in the transportation of persons, property, or mail by an aircraft of an air carrier conducting operations under part 121 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (or successor regulations), or a foreign air carrier within, to, or from the United States, either on board an aircraft or on the ground at an airport, including services performed by employees of contractors of air carriers, or foreign air carriers, as described in section 4111(3) of the CARES Act (Public Law 116–136);

(VIII) any services as an aircraft mechanic or technician who performs maintenance, repair, or overhaul work on an aircraft of an air carrier conducting operations under such part 121 or foreign air carrier within the United States;

(IX) services as maritime workers who qualify as seamen under section 10101(3) of title 46, United States Code, and other maritime employees including—

   (aa) longshoremen, harbor workers and shipbuilders covered under section 2(3) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (33 U.S.C. 902(3)) involved in the transportation of merchandise or passengers by water; and 

   (bb) shipbuilders and ship repairers who are working for an employer performing shipbuilding or ship repair work under contract or subcontract to the Departments of Defense, Energy or Homeland Security for military or other national security purposes; and

(X) services as maritime transportation workers supporting or enabling transportation functions, including such services as–

   (aa) barge workers, tug operators, and port and facility security personnel;

   (bb) marine dispatchers; and

   (cc) workers who repair and maintain marine vessels (including the equipment and infrastructure that enables operations that encompass movement of cargo and passengers).

Title II of Division N also establishes a “pandemic duty differential” for certain federal employees, including FAA and TSA employees (but excluding political employees, Member of Congress, and their personal and committee staffs), who have been performing essential public-facing work during the coronavirus crisis (or non-public-facing work at which social distancing is not possible and other preventative measures are not available), and that differential is also $13 per hour. The bill appropriates an additional $10 billion for that purpose.

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