House Passes Additional $1.25B in Highway Emergency Relief Funding

House Passes Additional $1.25B in Highway Emergency Relief Funding

February 07, 2020  | Jeff Davis

Earlier today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill appropriating an additional $1.25 billion from general revenues for the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program as part of a $20.8 billion package of aid destined mostly for Puerto Rico.

The bill passed the House by a roll call vote of 237 to 161.

Senate consideration of the legislation is not guaranteed, and President Trump has been unenthusiastic about additional aid for Puerto Rico (and that’s putting it mildly).

The legislation (H.R. 5687) consists of:

  • The aforementioned $1.25 billion supplemental fiscal 2020 FHWA appropriation;
  • An additional appropriation of $3.26 billion for the Community Development Fund of the Department of Housing and Urban Development;
  • $162 million in miscellaneous appropriations for other agencies; and
  • A package of tax breaks and incentives for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands estimated to cost the Treasury $16.1 billion in lower tax collections over ten years.

Unlike the rest of the funding in the bill, the $1.25 billion for highways is not specially directed at Puerto Rico and is fungible with the rest of the program, so it can be spent on any eligible ER project, anywhere.

The ER program receives $100 million in mandatory contract authority every October 1 from the Highway Trust Fund, per 23 U.S.C. §125, completely outside the annual appropriations process. (Since FY 2013, that $100 million has been reduced by sequestration by between $5 and $7 million per year.) But that money does not come close to supporting the needs of the program, so every few years, Congress appropriates a massive amount of general fund money to top off the emergency relief fund. Over the last decade, those periodic general fund appropriations have averaged $814 million per year:

FHWA Emergency Relief Budget Authority, FY 2010-2020 (Million $)
FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15
Statutory 100 100 100 95 93 93
Appropriated 0 0 1,662 1,921 0 0
FY16 FY17 FY18 FY19 FY20 Average
Statutory 93 93 93 94 94 95
Appropriated 0 1,532 1,374 1,650 ??? 814
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