New Democratic COVID Bill Would Spread More Transit Funding More Widely Than Earlier Version

New Democratic COVID Bill Would Spread More Transit Funding More Widely Than Earlier Version

October 01, 2020  | Jeff Davis

The version of the Heroes Act passed by the House of Representatives in May 2020 took criticism from several (Democratic-leaning) cities because of how narrowly the bill would have distributed its $11.7 billion in formula aid to mass transit providers in urbanized areas (defined as populations over 50,000). In fact, the earlier bill would have confined its formula aid to the 14 most populous urbanized areas, all with populations over 3 million in the 2010 Census.

The new COVID aid bill introduced in the House this week would provide $18.5 billion in formula aid to urbanized areas, and would spread it more widely. Preliminary analysis from the Federal Transit Administration shows that additional aid would be given to 41 of the 42 urbanized areas with populations over 1 million, as well as to 96 of the 138 urbanized areas with populations of at least 200,000 but less than 1 million.

(Text of the new transit aid provision is on pages 222-232 of this version of the 2,153-page bill.)

The key difference is not just that the new bill drops the old bill’s restriction of aid to populations over 3 million, it is also that the new bill uses a more objective measure for the delivery of aid than did the earlier bill or the CARES Act, which delivered an initial $23.1 billion in aid to urbanized areas back in March 2020.

That measure is “how much was spent on mass transit operating expenses by transit providers in an urbanized area in the most recent year” (which is reporting year 2018, in the National Transit Database). Under the new bill, combined formula aid awards from the CARES Act and from the new bill cannot exceed the actual 2018 transit operating expenses for that area.

Amongst urbanized areas over 1 million population, only Providence, Rhode Island-Massachusetts actually got more money under the CARES Act ($124.0 million) than it spent on transit in 2018 ($121.6 million), so it alone is ineligible for aid under the new bill. 42 urbanized areas in the 200K-1M population bracket also got more money from CARES than they spent on operations in 2018, so they won’t get any formula aid under the new bill, either.

The majority of urbanized areas with populations between 50,000 and 199,999 got more money from CARES than they spent on operations in 2018—the aggregate total was $2.13 billion from CARES, versus $1.81 billion in 2018 operating expenses.

Of the 42 urbanized areas with populations over 1 million, the new House bill in combination with CARES aid would give 21 of them (plus Providence) their 2018 total operations funding. The other 20 would still have received, collectively, $5.32 billion less than their 2018 operational expenses—$3.89 billion shy in New York City, with nine-digit shortages in Los Angeles, the DC area, the Bay area, Seattle, and Portland, and smaller shortages everywhere else.

This is where the non-formula aid comes in. In addition to the $18.5 billion in formula aid in the new House bill, there is also $10 billion in discretionary aid for transit providers who “as a result of coronavirus, require additional assistance to maintain operations” (read: NYC). FTA is directed to issue a NOFO for the $10 billion within 120 days of enactment, require applications to be submitted within 180 days of enactment, and make awards no later than 60 days after the application deadline.

FTA is also directed to give priority in awarding the $10 billion to “agencies in urbanized areas that received less than 100 percent of their 2018 operating expenses” from the combination of CARES and the new bill, which again means primarily New York City, as well as priority to “transit agencies with the largest revenue loss as a percentage of the agency’s 2018 operating expenses,” which will be interesting data to see.

In addition to the transit aid to the urbanized areas, the new bill provides an additional $750 million for grants under the rural area formula, an appropriation of $250 million under the elderly/disabled formula, and $2.5 billion to plus up the Capital Investment Grants program. In total, the combination of CARES and the new bill would provide $56.9 billion in COVID-related aid for mass transit.

About that CIG money—$1.95 billion is for projects that have received allocations of funding in the fiscal 2019 list or the fiscal 2020 list as of the date of enactment of the bill, “Provided, That the Secretary shall calculate each recipient’s non-Capital Investment Grant financial commitment for fiscal years 2019 and 2020 as a percentage of the non-Capital Investment Grant financial commitments of all projects for such fiscal years and shall proportionally allocate such funds within 14 days of enactment of this Act.”

Another $400 million is for projects that don’t have FY19 or FY20 funding allocations yet but eventually get some of the unallocated money (which was $805 million as of the other day), again proportionately.

Then, there is $150 million for mystery “small start” projects that may be running out of their promised non-federal matching money—FTA is directed to issue a NOFO within 120 days of enactment for which any small start that already have grant agreements but think they need more money.

The table below shows the urbanized area funding for major urbanized areas under CARES, the original Heroes 1 bill, the new Heroes 2 bill, versus 2018 operating expenses. Heroes 2 figures are off by one-half of a percent because the initial FTA analysis did not include the administrative expense takedown, but it’s “close enough for government work.” A list of urbanized areas over 200,000 population that would not get any formula money under the new bill follows the table.

COVID-Related Formula Aid for Urbanized Areas

Millions of dollars.
Mar. 2020 May 2020 Sept. 2020 CARES Act 2018 CARES+
CARES Act Heroes 1 Heroes 2 Plus Operating Heroes 2
Urbanized Area Over 1M Allocation Estimate Estimate Heroes 2 Expenses Minus 2018
NYC-Newark $5,437.2 $4,997.3 $5,852.0 $11,289.2 $14,677.1 -$3,387.9
L.A.-Long Beach-Anaheim $1,216.0 $731.6 $1,373.0 $2,589.0 $2,846.4 -$257.4
Chicago $1,481.7 $1,375.8 $1,136.1 $2,617.8 $2,617.8 $0.0
Miami $454.7 $287.2 $430.0 $884.8 $884.8 $0.0
Philadelphia $879.1 $775.2 $719.8 $1,598.9 $1,598.9 $0.0
Dallas-Ft. Worth-Arlington $318.6 $192.9 $274.8 $593.4 $593.4 $0.0
Houston $258.6 $85.8 $282.4 $541.0 $543.9 -$2.9
Washington DC-MD-VA $1,020.2 $893.9 $1,123.9 $2,144.1 $2,467.4 -$323.3
Atlanta $370.9 $304.0 $165.8 $536.7 $536.7 $0.0
Boston $884.0 $755.3 $685.5 $1,569.5 $1,569.5 $0.0
Detroit $133.9 $35.6 $101.4 $235.3 $235.3 $0.0
Phoenix-Mesa $188.4 $75.6 $176.5 $364.9 $364.9 $0.0
San Francisco-Oakland $822.6 $766.2 $944.3 $1,766.9 $2,188.9 -$422.0
Seattle $520.6 $414.8 $593.5 $1,114.2 $1,480.1 -$365.9
San Diego $314.3 $0.0 $75.8 $390.0 $390.0 $0.0
Minneapolis-St. Paul $226.5 $0.0 $254.5 $481.0 $549.9 -$68.9
Tampa-St. Petersburg $91.1 $0.0 $71.4 $162.5 $162.5 $0.0
Denver-Aurora $209.4 $0.0 $234.6 $444.0 $531.7 -$87.7
Baltimore $385.5 $0.0 $230.0 $615.6 $615.6 $0.0
St. Louis $151.5 $0.0 $141.6 $293.1 $293.1 $0.0
San Juan $96.1 $0.0 $60.8 $156.9 $156.9 $0.0
Riverside-San Bernardino $137.6 $0.0 $18.9 $156.5 $156.5 $0.0
Las Vegas-Henderson $112.3 $0.0 $117.2 $229.4 $229.4 $0.0
Portland $201.9 $0.0 $228.1 $430.0 $568.0 -$137.9
Cleveland $123.5 $0.0 $138.1 $261.6 $263.4 -$1.9
San Antonio $93.3 $0.0 $102.0 $195.3 $206.8 -$11.5
Pittsburgh $162.1 $0.0 $183.1 $345.3 $434.6 -$89.4
Sacramento $112.1 $0.0 $86.9 $199.1 $199.1 $0.0
San Jose $196.8 $0.0 $223.2 $420.1 $454.7 -$34.6
Cincinnati $57.3 $0.0 $61.8 $119.1 $132.1 -$13.0
Kansas City $51.3 $0.0 $55.0 $106.3 $109.9 -$3.6
Orlando $93.4 $0.0 $45.8 $139.2 $139.2 $0.0
Indianapolis $44.6 $0.0 $41.8 $86.4 $86.4 $0.0
Milwaukee $62.4 $0.0 $68.3 $130.6 $163.5 -$32.9
Virginia Beach $63.8 $0.0 $33.6 $97.5 $97.5 $0.0
Columbus $53.2 $0.0 $57.7 $110.9 $157.3 -$46.4
Austin $104.1 $0.0 $115.9 $219.9 $226.7 -$6.8
Charlotte $63.6 $0.0 $69.7 $133.3 $152.1 -$18.9
Providence $124.0 $0.0 $0.0 $124.0 $121.6 $2.4
Jacksonville $42.6 $0.0 $45.6 $88.2 $101.7 -$13.5
Memphis $35.7 $0.0 $20.3 $56.0 $56.0 $0.0
Salt Lake City $112.1 $0.0 $78.2 $190.3 $190.3 $0.0
Total, UZAs Over 1M Pop. $17,508.6 $11,691.3 $16,718.9 $34,227.5 $39,551.4 -$5,323.9
UZAs 200K-999,999 pop. $3,417.5 $0.0 $1,420.9 $4,838.4 $4,907.2 -$68.8
UZAs 50K-199,999 pop. $2,130.4 $0.0 $360.2 $2,490.6 1,808.4 $682.2
TOTAL $23,056.5 $11,691.3 $18,500.0 $41,556.5 $46,267.1 -$4,710.5

Urbanized areas over 1 million population that would not get any additional formula aid under Heroes 2 (1): Providence, RI-MA.

Urbanized areas over 200,000 but less than 1 million population that would not get any additional formula aid under Heroes 2 (42):

Aberdeen, MD Gulfport, MS Nashua, NH
Aguadilla, PR Hickory, NC Norwich-New London, CT-RI
Anchorage, AK Huntington, WV Oklahoma City, OK
Asheville, NC Huntsville, AL Oxnard, CA
Augusta, GA Jackson, MS Palm Bay-Melbourne, FL
Boise City, ID Killeen, TX Port St. Lucie, FL
Bonita Springs, FL Lafayette, LA Portland, ME
Brownsville, TX Lake Tahoe, CA-NV Round Lake Beach, IL
Columbus, GA Lancaster, PA South Bend, IN
Conroe-Woodlands, TX Lancaster-Palmdale, CA Thousand Oaks, CA
Dayton, OH McAllen, TX Victorville-Hesperia, CA
Fayetteville, NC Montgomery, AL Visalia, CA
Fayetteville, AR Murrieta-Temecula, CA Wichita, KS
Greenville, SC Myrtle Beach, SC Worcester, MA-CT
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