Airports, Some Transit Agencies Slow to Spend COVID Relief Money

Airports, Some Transit Agencies Slow to Spend COVID Relief Money

August 06, 2020  | Jeff Davis

New data from the federal government shows that not all airports and transit agencies needed the federal coronavirus aid provided by the CARES Act in March 2020 as urgently as others.

The data, released this week on usaspending.gov, shows that the federal government has appropriated $36.1 billion to the U.S. Department of Transportation for various coronavirus relief accounts. We believe that the obligation and outlay data on the website is as of June 30 (the website says July 31, but other people we have talked to say the numbers are actually as of June 30). As of that date, 78 percent of that money ($28.2 billion) had been legally obligated through grant agreements or contracts, but only $7.5 billion of the money (21 percent of the $26.1 billion) had actually been spent. (“Spent” defined as outlays – cash going out the door of the Treasury.)

An additional $32 billion in aid to airlines and related companies was distributed by the Treasury Department, not DOT. Of that money, $26.3 billion has been obligated and $22.8 billion outlaid.

For the big accounts, in billions of dollars:

As of June 30 Percent
Appropriated Obligated Outlaid Spent
Air Carriers $32.000 $26.260 $22.776 71%
Transit Agencies $25.000 $18.700 $5.570 22%
Airports $10.000 $8.501 $0.931 9%
Amtrak (NN) $0.526 $0.526 $0.526 100%
Amtrak (NEC) $0.492 $0.492 $0.492 100%

Air carriers. Section 4112 of the CARES Act provided a total of $32 billion in grant money – $25 billion for passenger carriers, $4 billion for cargo carriers, and $3 billion for contractors. In exchange for the cash, the companies had to promise not to reduce employment before September 30.

All of the major airlines had spent at least 50 percent of their cash award as of June 30, with the four majors each having spent 90 percent of their money and with Alaska and JetBlue having spent all of their money. In millions of dollars:

As of June 30 Percent
Obligated Outlaid Unspent Spent
American $5,814.5 $5,233.1 $581.5 90%
Delta $5,436.3 $4,892.7 $543.6 90%
United $4,958.5 $4,462.6 $495.8 90%
Southwest $3,259.2 $2,933.3 $325.9 90%
Alaska $992.2 $992.2 $0.0 100%
JetBlue $935.8 $935.8 $0.0 100%
SkyWest $438.0 $306.6 $131.4 70%
Atlas Air $406.8 $305.1 $101.7 75%
Spirit $334.7 $301.3 $33.5 90%
Hawaiian $292.5 $263.2 $29.2 90%
Republic $206.0 $144.2 $61.8 70%
Frontier $204.9 $184.4 $20.5 90%
Allegiant $171.9 $154.7 $17.2 90%
ExpressJet $109.9 $98.9 $11.0 90%
Mesa $92.5 $46.2 $46.2 50%

The major contractors have also spent the majority of their CARES grant awards:

As of June 30 Percent
Obligated Outlaid Unspent Spent
Gate Gourmet $171.4 $128.6 $42.9 75%
Aircraft Service Int’L $111.1 $83.3 $27.8 75%
Worldwide Flight Serv. $107.2 $80.4 $26.8 75%
Flying Food Fare $85.0 $63.8 $21.3 75%
One Sky Flight $84.4 $42.2 $42.2 50%
G2 Secure Staff $81.4 $81.4 $0.0 100%
Signature $79.8 $59.9 $20.0 75%
Wheels Up Partners $74.2 $37.1 $37.1 50%

Transit agencies. The CARES Act appropriated $25 billion for mass transit providers, to be apportioned via formula. The Federal Transit Administration announced how much money each provider would receive on April 2, but each provider then had to apply for the money and sign a grant agreement with FTA. Some of them took longer than others.

The earliest obligation date we can find is for the state of Missouri, on April 10. Most of the big transit agencies negotiated their grants and got their money legally obligated in May. On the other hand, there is no record for Los Angeles Metro, which means that they had not even finished negotiating and signing their grant agreement by June 30.

Some transit agencies may have been delaying the transfer of funds from the federal government to their own books because they use a July 1 – June 30 fiscal year and wanted the money booked in the new year, not the year that was about to end.

As of June 30, the New York City MTA had already spent 73 percent of their $4.0 billion CARES Act grant. This trails only San Francisco Muni as the fastest-spending major transit agency.

On the other hand, as of June 30, the following major transit providers had spent precisely zero dollars of their CARES Act grants: Atlanta MARTA, San Francisco BART, Seattle King County DOT, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Northern Illinois Pace. In addition, Chicago CTA had only spent 7 percent of its money, Chicago Metra only 11 percent, and Phoenix 2 percent.

The following is a list of all transit agencies with obligated grant awards from the CARES Act exceeding $100 million, in millions of dollars:

As of June 30 Agreement Percent
Metro Area Provider Date Obligated Outlaid Unspent Spent
New York City MTA May 8 $4,009.5 $2,916.3 $1,093.2 73%
New Jersey NJT May 15 $1,423.5 $360.8 $1,062.8 25%
DC Area WMATA May 19 $876.8 $159.5 $717.3 18%
Boston MBTA May 8 $827.7 $221.8 $605.9 27%
Chicago CTA May 15 $817.5 $58.0 $759.5 7%
Philadelphia SEPTA June 3 $644.3 $65.0 $579.3 10%
Chicago Metra May 12 $479.2 $53.4 $425.8 11%
Atlanta MARTA June 29 $298.6 $0.0 $298.6 0%
San Francisco BART May 19 $251.6 $0.0 $251.6 0%
Houston MTA May 5 $248.8 $160.5 $88.4 64%
Seattle King Co. June 29 $243.7 $0.0 $243.7 0%
Denver RTD May 12 $232.3 $87.7 $144.5 38%
Minneapolis Met Council May 29 $226.5 $0.0 $226.5 0%
San Diego MTS June 10 $220.0 $17.9 $202.1 8%
San Francisco Muni May 19 $197.2 $179.2 $18.0 91%
Phoenix City May 6 $188.4 $3.0 $185.4 2%
Salt Lake City UTA June 9 $187.2 $30.4 $156.8 16%
Portland Tri-Met May 19 $184.9 $63.6 $121.3 34%
Seattle Sound Transit May 19 $166.3 $71.0 $95.3 43%
St. Louis BDA May 15 $142.4 $20.6 $121.8 14%
Pittsburgh Port Auth. June 9 $141.7 $0.0 $141.7 0%
Chicago Pace June 3 $112.8 $0.0 $112.8 0%
Las Vegas RTC May 15 $112.3 $18.4 $93.8 16%
Cleveland RTA May 5 $112.0 $56.2 $55.8 50%
Austin Capital MTA May 13 $101.9 $49.5 $52.4 49%

Airports. The CARES Act appropriated $10 billion for airports, to be distributed by formula. DOT announced each airport’s financial award on April 14, but as with the transit grants, each airport sponsor had to fill out an application and sign a grant agreement, which they did on their own time.

As of June 30, the twenty largest obligated CARES grant awards (which represent more than 20 airports, because some sponsors, like the NYC Port Authority and the Hawaii DOT, run multiple airports) totaled $4.3 billion – but only $633 million, or 15 percent, had been spent. Denver, Miami, and Philadelphia had spent almost half their CARES money, while the NYC airports, LAX, San Francisco, the DC airports, Sea-Tac, Orlando, Phoenix and Charlotte had spent precisely zero of their CARES money.

Some of the slowness may stem from the local July 1 fiscal year issue (but not the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which uses a January 1 – December 31 fiscal year). But more importantly, one of the big justifications for giving special federal aid to airports was that they needed it to make debt service payments. Debt service only comes due on a fixed schedule (quarterly, semiannually, or annually), and CARES Act grants are reimbursable funds, so if an airport was only using their CARES money for debt service, the outlay could only be recorded after a quarterly/semiannual/annual debt service payment was made. Airports literally can’t spend CARES Act dollars for debt service ahead of scheduled debt due dates.

Agreement Percent
As of June 30 Date Obligated Outlaid Unspent Spent
NYC Airports June 11 $450.4 $0.0 $450.4 0%
Atlanta May 8 $338.5 $80.9 $257.7 24%
LAX May 26 $323.6 $0.0 $323.6 0%
DFW May 11 $250.0 $144.1 $105.9 58%
O’Hare May 14 $294.4 $0.0 $294.4 0%
Denver April 28 $269.1 $129.8 $139.3 48%
San Francisco June 17 $254.8 $0.0 $254.8 0%
DC airports May 18 $229.1 $0.0 $229.1 0%
Miami May 11 $207.2 $93.9 $113.3 45%
Las Vegas May 15 $195.8 $22.5 $173.4 11%
Sea-Tac May 3 $192.1 $0.0 $192.1 0%
Orlando May 12 $170.8 $0.0 $170.8 0%
Houston June 22 $149.2 $8.1 $141.1 5%
Phoenix May 6 $147.9 $0.0 $147.9 0%
Boston May 14 $143.7 $35.0 $108.7 24%
Detroit May 5 $141.9 $9.2 $132.6 7%
Charlotte June 2 $135.6 $0.0 $135.6 0%
Ft. Lauderdale May 11 $135.0 $42.9 $92.1 32%
Hawaii Airports May 3 $133.3 $12.9 $120.4 10%
Philadelphia May 13 $116.3 $53.8 $62.5 46%
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