The U.S. government just passed a $2 trillion emergency relief bill called the 2020 CARES Act, which included $25 billion for transit to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, now what? Cities and transit agencies have a lot of questions about whether they qualify for those funds, how the money is allocated, and what the funding can be used for. Here’s a breakdown of the most common frequently asked questions about the bill and what it might mean for public transportation in America.
How is the $25 billion being allocated?
The Transit Infrastructure Grants were dispersed through the FTA's formula grants under the Urbanized Area (5307), Rural Area (5311), State of Good Repair (5337), and Growing States/High Density States (5340) programs. The funds were sent to “Designated Recipients” who must update their split letters (letters that address how funds are allocated to Direct and Sub Recipients within the Designated Recipient’s area) to account for the new funds. You can find the exact apportionments by state and urban area on the FTA’s site here.
What if my agency or city is not already a Designated, Direct, or Sub Recipient of FTA funds?
A Designated, Direct, or Sub Recipient may choose not to direct any of the funds to you, but the law does not prohibit it from doing so. If you provide public transportation services that have been impacted by COVID-19 or you want to launch a service in response to the crisis, it is recommend that you reach out to the Designated, Direct, or Sub Recipient to request funds. [Note: we will be seeking additional FTA clarification on this question].
What can the stimulus funds be used for?
The CARES Act funds are very flexible and available for all operating and capital expenses incurred to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19, beginning Jan. 20, 2020. These expenses include cleaning supplies, lost revenue, new services, driver salaries, fuel, and more. The FTA includes more detail on eligible expenses in their COVID-19 FAQ.
Can the stimulus funds be used for on-demand transit?
Yes. The funds can be used for all expenses related to on-demand transit from increased cleaning of vehicles, driver personal protective equipment, and regular operational expenses (software, driver pay, fuel, etc.). The funds can also be used to launch new on-demand transit efforts aimed at essential worker transportation or meal/equipment delivery.
Is a local match required?
No. All CARES Act funds are provided at 100% federal match, and no local funds are required.
When are the funds available?
The FTA distributed funds to Designated Recipients on Friday, April 3.
Are there any other resources I should be aware of?
The FTA has several COVID-19 resources available for public transit agencies:
- COVID-19 Landing Page
- COVID-19 FAQ
- Increase Flexibility of Regular FTA funds
- CARES Act - the Transit Infrastructure Grants section begins on page 319
- Launching an on-demand emergency services service
Andrei Greenawalt, Head of Public Policy, Via
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