Chair DeFazio Statement from Full Committee Markup on Committee’s Portions of President Biden’s COVID Relief Proposal
Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during today’s markup to consider legislative proposals to comply with the reconciliation directive included in section 2001 of the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2021, S. Con. Res. 5.
Today we are here to provide nearly $100 billion in support for much-needed relief to transportation workers and communities that have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposal we are considering includes $30 billion to support essential transit and rural intercity bus service, provide lifesaving PPE, and keep workers on the job. The funds will help 435,000 transit workers—including those who work for third-party contractors. It includes people like Ismael Rivera, who testified before our Committee last week—who risk their safety to keep our country moving.
The proposal provides resources to transit systems of all sizes, from major metropolitan areas that have experienced steep ridership declines, to small rural bus systems that serve as a lifeline for senior citizens. It also provides dedicated resources for paratransit providers, tribal transit, and intercity buses.
Investing in transit doesn’t just help transit workers. It helps 2.7 million frontline workers who rely on public transit to get to their jobs. That includes over 750,000 doctors and nurses, 125,000 grocery store clerks, 50,000 postal and delivery workers, and 110,000 first responders and members of the armed forces.
But transit agencies across the country face a shortfall of nearly $40 billion, driven by ridership declines that averaged between 65 and 80 percent last year. Agencies have exhausted the relief funds provided by Congress in March, and have serious operating cost deficits that far exceed the amounts provided in December.
Without additional relief, agencies do not have the cash on hand to continue running buses and trains. We risk a “death spiral” for transit—more service cuts, more layoffs, and further declines in ridership.
Our essential workers can’t afford that. The millions of Americans who depend on public transit can’t afford that. And even if you never step foot on a train or bus, you can’t afford the traffic congestion that would come from millions of additional cars on the road.
The proposal also provides $1.5 billion to sustain service on Amtrak’s passenger rail network. It requires Amtrak to reinstate the daily long-distance service that was slashed in 2020 and bring back the rail workers who were furloughed due to the pandemic.
It also provides support for states and commuter rail agencies that partner with Amtrak.
The proposal includes parity for railroad workers by mirroring the railroad unemployment benefits after the unemployment programs administered by states, ensuring that unemployed railroad workers are provided the same relief as everyone else.
We are also providing $8 billion to help our Nation’s airports address their increasing challenges, including $800 million in relief to airport concessions, with the vast majority of funding set aside for small businesses and minority-owned firms. According to an airport industry group, U.S. airports will lose at least $17 billion between April 2021 and March 2022 because of the precipitous and sustained decline in airline passenger traffic resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, airports are forced to deal with these staggering losses even when the operating costs remain largely unchanged, since you can’t just close an airport and in many cases can’t reduce operating hours by any substantial measure. Without immediate help, it will be difficult for airports to retain their current workforce levels and maintain essential operations, let alone invest in critical airport safety and other infrastructure projects.
Providing this essential funding will help ensure our Nation’s airports can continue to make critical investments that will protect airport workers, concession owners, and travelers during one of the most perilous times in our Nation’s history and to ready them for the rebound in commercial air traffic when Americans are vaccinated and take to the skies again.
This proposal also creates a new program to prevent involuntary furloughs of thousands of workers at some 5,000 aeronautical repair stations and similar aviation businesses and roughly 1,500 aerospace manufacturers.
This program, fashioned partially in the mold of the successful airline payroll support program, will provide payroll pass-through grants totaling $3 billion to workers who otherwise would face involuntary furloughs as a result of the pandemic. The funds will be used to recall, and to continue paying, furloughed workers.
Let me be clear that, like the airline payroll support program, this program is 100 percent for the benefit of workers. Not a cent of the assistance provided through this program will make its way into the pockets of executives or shareholders. For aerospace workers facing financial ruin as a result of the pandemic, this program will keep food on the table, provide for health care and other needs, and keep the lights on until—hopefully—the industry can emerge from this crisis and begin rebuilding.
I’ll also note that I’m very pleased that an extension of the Payroll Support Program for aviation workers is being marked up by the Financial Services Committee and includes $14 billion for airline employees and $1 billion for contractors.
We are also replenishing FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund with $50 billion dollars.
As many of you know and were supportive of last Congress, I led the charge—along with Chair Titus—for a cost share adjustment to one hundred percent Federal for the COVID declarations President Trump granted states, tribes, and territories via the Stafford Act.
While we hit a wall with statutorily providing this adjustment during December’s omnibus negotiation, the Biden Administration took swift action during its first two weeks, and exercised its authority to adjust the cost share to one hundred percent and provide some additional clarity on reimbursable emergency protective measures from the start of the pandemic through the close of fiscal year 2021.
The President has also expanded the commitment of the Federal government – via FEMA – to support state, local, tribal, and territorial governments with vaccination efforts.
FEMA has been spending upward of a quarter billion dollars per day in reimbursements to state and local governments, or in direct Federal assistance.
This proposal also includes $3 billion in grant funding for the Economic Development Administration to address the pandemic’s impact on local economies. Lasting economic recovery is going to require funding for projects that promote sustainable, long-term job growth, particularly in industries that have been devastated by COVID-19.
That’s why 15 percent of the appropriation is dedicated to assisting communities that have suffered economic injury as a result of job losses in travel, tourism, or outdoor recreation activities.
And finally, the proposal provides $1.5 million for operations, maintenance, and capital infrastructure activities of the Seaway International Bridge.
I strongly encourage my colleagues to stand with our transportation workers and support this badly-needed relief to continue responding to this public health and economic disaster.
[To view Chair DeFazio’s remarks as delivered, click here]
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