COVID-19 Relief Stalls, House Passes THUD Appropriations

Legislation introduced in the Senate on July 27 to provide $1 trillion worth of further COVID-19 relief funding is getting little traction ahead of the chamber’s August recess. Meanwhile, the House of Representations passed a package of six appropriations bill or “minibus” on July 31 by a vote of 217 to 197 that would provide a total of $107.2 billion in budgetary resources for the U.S. Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2021.

While the Senate’s latest COVID-19 relief bill – called the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools or HEALS Act — provides $306 billion in supplemental emergency appropriations for FY 2020, including $13.4 billion Transportation-Housing and Urban Development or THUD funding, emergency aid for state departments of transportation requested by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is not included.

In fact, any form of state funding was not expected to be included in this “first draft” of the Senate’s COVID-19 relief bill. However, AASHTO’s policy team noted a provision within the HEALS Act would allow for more “flexible use” of the $150 billion provided to states in the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act signed into law in March.

AASHTO’s policy team added that current negotiations between the House, Senate, and White House is the next “critical step” in the process to develop further COVID-19 relief legislation and that there is “a good chance” that some form of state and local funding relief will eventually be included in the final bill.

It remains to be seen how large the overall funding in this latest rescue package will be, but it is expected to be less than the $3 trillion offered by the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions or HEROES Act passed by the House in mid-May.

In the meantime, the House passed its six-bill FY 2021 minibus, which included a THUD measure that is much larger compared to recent years as it includes additional COVID-19 relief for FY 2021.

Coming in at $107.2 billion in total USDOT funding, key aspects include $62.9 billion for the Federal Highway Administration, $18.9 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, $18.1 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration, and $3 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration.

Specific funding provisions within the House’s THUD appropriations bill also include:

  • $1 billion for national infrastructure investments via the USDOT’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD discretionary grants program.
  • $500 million for the FAA’s discretionary Airport Improvement Grants or AIP program.
  • $1 billion for discretionary Highway Infrastructure Programs.
  • $500 million for the FRA’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements or CRISI grant program.
  • $2.05 billion for Amtrak.
  • $2.2 billion for the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants or CIG program.
  • $510 million for Transit Infrastructure Grants.

In addition, to support the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the House’s THUD appropriations bill provides – via emergency funding not subject to budget caps – an additional $26 billion for the USDOT infrastructure programs, including: a further $3 billion for the BUILD program; $2.5 billion extra for FAA Grants-in-Aid for Airports; another $5 billion for the FRA’s CRISI program; a further$5 billion for Amtrak Northeast Corridor Grants and $3 billion for Amtrak National Network Grants.

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