Democrats in the House have released guidelines regarding the $3 trillion pandemic relief package. In the Senate, there have been several appropriations bills senators have said may be considered this month. Congress will consider the 12 appropriations bills by the end of September. If funding measures are not enacted by the end of the fiscal year, or a continuing funding resolution plan is not approved, aspects of the federal apparatus will be shut down.
In the fiscal year of 2021, the White House has requested $21.6 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Transportation, which would be a decrease of 13 percent from the previous year’s level. Mandatory contract authority and obligation limitations would receive $66.2 billion, which would be an increase of 8 percent. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would receive an increase of almost 4 percent.
According to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, this request would also bring $1 billion in infrastructure and freight grants.
“These programs provide federal assistance for critical projects that will spur progress in both rural and urban communities across all modes of surface transportation infrastructure: highways, transit, rail, and ports,” she said.
Still, industry groups are concerned that they are not receiving enough to recover.
Transit has asked for an additional $23.8 billion. It has only had a nod of $15.57 billion within the House bill, which also included $15 billion for highways from the general fund.
The motorcoach industry, which includes passenger buses, private transit, and charter buses, asked for $15 billion to help survive the time of the pandemic. The House bill gave $750 million in grants for intercity bus providers instead.
According to Peter Pantuso, American Bus Association President and CEO, this allocation is “a great start, but it’s not enough to save jobs and an industry that provides essential and diverse services to every walk of life in America.”
For the American Association of State Highway And Transportation, officials asked for $50 billion for direct emergency assistance to state transportation departments, a request which had support from 137 House members from both parties. The House instead gave state departments of transportation $15 billion. Executive director of AASHTO, Jim Tymon, said this is good news, although it isn’t what they asked for.
According to Tymon, many states have seen gas tax revenues drop significantly during the stay-at-home order implemented across the country. Because of this, state highway departments have had to pull back on proposed projects and furlough employees.
However, Tymon is hopeful that the House bill means more money will continue to come in. “We know we’ll still see states pull back on projects,” he said. Although they didn’t receive the $50 billion they originally asked for, the number of projects they’ll need to scale back “is a lot fewer than if the $15 billion wasn’t there.”
House Transportation Infrastructure Committee member, Rodney Davis, isn’t as convinced.
“$10 billion in a $3 trillion package for infrastructure?” he asked. “Seriously?”
Rep. David E. Price, chairman of the House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, defended the legislation. “A big part of the state and local aid goes [to] transportation,” he said. “That far outstrips any specific provisions.”
The American Trucking Associations is currently arguing for liability overhaul and tax relief, while the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is pushing for measures such as driver compensation and hazard pay, as well as improved assistance for Small Business Administration. The group has also asked Congress for a suspension of heavy vehicle use tax and unified carrier registration fees.
Groups within the trucking industry that previously benefited from coronavirus spending bills are having to wait on asking for more.
According to John Bozzella, president and CEO at the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the industry is not making a request, although a group of lawmakers from automaker states Ohio and Michigan have asked the House to focus on the U.S. auto industry for aid in the next bill.
He also said the $2 trillion coronavirus law brought liquidity for the industry that was needed, even though the current sales environment within trucking is in question.
A statement was released last month by the industry expressing concerns for the latest package, saying: “We are disheartened to see yet another massive aid package that is again lacking in assistance for our larger members and does not provide immediate liquidity relief for an industry in dire need. “
According to Fast Park’s Rob Chavez, the industry “has been decimated” and is unable to access help at the federal level. “It’s a month-to-month situation here,” Chavez said of his business, which is currently doing the work of 20 employees with just two. “It sounds almost ridiculous to say it, but companies weren’t built for no revenue.”