UPDATED MARCH 27: Stimulus Bill—Signed Into Law—CARES For Rail

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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President Trump on March 27 signed H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, into law, following swift passage in the House of Representatives by voice vote, and one day after the U.S. Senate passed the bill in a unanimous 96-0 vote. The CARES Act is a $2 trillion stimulus package that addresses the devastating economic and societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes many funding measures that directly benefit the railway industry—all modes, freight and passenger.

A substantial section of the CARES Act contains the provisions specific to rail and other transport modes. In summary, it provides:

  • U.S. DOT Operations: $31.3 million in budgetary resources to support activities by the Office of the Secretary, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, and Maritime Administration to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. Funding would support increased needs for telework and information technology, inspection equipment, and preparing and equipping the National Defense Reserve Fleet, Ready Reserve Fleet, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, and State Maritime Academies. FRA Safety and Operations receives $250,000, to remain available until Sept. 30, 2021, to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus.
  • Amtrak: $1.02 billion to support Amtrak’s ability to operate passenger rail service on the Northeast Corridor ($492 million) and National Network ($526 million) and protect Amtrak workers. An additional $239 million is available to Amtrak to cover the cost of FAST Act-required payments to Amtrak for State-supported services. States shall not be required to pay Amtrak more than 80% for use of Amtrak facilities pursuant to section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA).
  • Transit: $24.9 billion for grants to transit agencies nationwide for operating expenses of those agencies to ensure continued operation of transit services. It also eliminates any requirement that transit agencies use their own funds to receive federal assistance, and maintains key worker protections. The legislation approved by the Senate will allocate $22.7 billion for large and small urban areas and $2.2 billion for rural areas. The $24.9 billion is awarded via formula, with a 100% Federal share. The formula is based on FY 2020 allocations for Urbanized Area Formula Grants, Non-urbanized Area Formula Grants, State of Good Repair and High Density and Growing States.
  • Railroad Unemployment Insurance: Waives the seven-day waiting period for filing a sickness or unemployment claim with the RRB (Railroad Retirement Board) and provides $50 million to cover the costs of providing these additional benefits. Increases unemployment benefits through an additional $1,200 bi-weekly benefit and provides $425 million to cover the costs of providing these additional benefits through July 31, 2020. Allows RRB to access approximately $130 million of remaining ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds to provide extended benefits through Dec. 31, 2020. Supplies $5 million to RRB for additional administrative costs.

The pages in this PDF document that address rail are 140-143, 186, 193, 511, 579, 594, 771, 836-841, and 874-875. The PDF is searchable using the Command-F key combination.

The entire 880-page section can be downloaded here:

Editor’s Note: Interestingly, the numbers 7, 4 and 8 in H.R. 748 add up to 19—a coincidence?

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao joined Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams for a live briefing with more than 1,500 transit industry leaders “to share the agency’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” FTA said in a statement. “During the call, Secretary Chao thanked the nation’s transit agencies for their efforts to maintain service during the health crisis and highlighted the legislation currently working its way through Congress that will provide $25 billion in emergency relief to transit systems nationwide. The Secretary also announced that FTA will extend current competitive grant program funding opportunities for 30 days. In addition, she highlighted the actions taken by FTA in response to the crisis, including new flexibility that allows agencies to use existing federal formula funds for emergency-related capital and operating expenses at an increased 80% federal share.”

“This legislation provides much needed support to our public transit systems and Amtrak and, by extension, the hundreds of railway suppliers around the country that support them,” said Railway Supply Institute President Mike O’Malley. ”As ridership declines dramatically and small businesses try to manage their operational costs during this pandemic, we must continue to support one another as an industry. RSI is grateful for Congress’ swift action to address this crisis, and we look forward to working with lawmakers in the coming weeks to develop additional proposals that support and strengthen the industry, while ensuring our passenger and freight railroad partners can serve the needs of our communities and the nation.”

“Class I freight and short line railroads applaud Congress for ensuring in the latest COVID-19 aid legislative package that rail workers have access to critical unemployment and sickness benefits during this unprecedented public health emergency,” the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line Railroad Association (ASLRRA) said in a joint statement. “Unlike the average American worker, railroaders do not receive unemployment benefits through state-administered programs but rather through the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB) Railroad Unemployment Insurance Program.

“As a united front, the AAR and ASLRRA joined with rail labor in calling on Congress to provide rail workers affected by the coronavirus with the same vital protections they extended to other impacted Americans in the first COVID-19 stimulus package.

“This aid package will offer a vital relief to hard-working rail employees whose jobs are impacted during these challenging times,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “We thank Congress for ensuring railroaders have access to this lifeline. The industry is committed to working in partnership with its employees as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and railroaders will continue to deliver what America needs.”

“While short line railroads are working hard to avoid any layoffs or furloughs, this Railroad Unemployment Insurance improvement is an important safety net to provide,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker. “We were pleased to work with our friends in rail labor and at the AAR to make this request, and we join them in thanking Congress for its quick action in the face of this unprecedented crisis.”

“This essential funding for Amtrak will help keep people working and the economy moving during this unprecedented situation,” Amtrak said in a statement. “At Amtrak, we continue to keep employee and customer safety as a top priority, as we take aggressive measures to cut costs and adjust service so that we come out of this crisis ready to continue serving the nation. We thank the Administration and Congress, especially Leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, and the bipartisan leadership of the Appropriations and Authorizing committees.”

COMMENTARY: NO MASSIE! NO MASSIE!

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) draws a Ruger LCP handgun from his pocket during a rally in support of the Second Amendment on Jan. 31 in Frankfort, Ky. Bryan Woolston/Getty Images

In a rare moment of solidarity, House Republicans and Democrats squashed an attempt by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) to use a procedural maneuver to try to force a recorded (roll call) vote on the CARES Act. This would have required lawmakers to cast their votes individually, in person—very difficult under the present circumstances, since at least one is in self-quarantine with COVID-19, and others are elderly and more vulnerable to infection and should be staying at home, for their own safety.

According to Slate writer Jim Newell (who posted the story in this link just prior to the voice vote), “On Thursday night (March 26), the office of the House majority leader had some unfortunate news to break to the body’s members: If they were ‘able and willing to be in Washington, D.C. by 10:00 a.m. tomorrow,’ they should get a move on. There was a familiar but no less aggravating problem on the horizon: A rogue libertarian was threatening to be a pain in the ass.

“The House has been trying all week to determine how it might pass the Senate’s $2 trillion coronavirus relief package without calling representatives back to Washington and risking the health of its many very old members, especially when the outcome of a vote wouldn’t be in serious question. The House Rules Committee presented several imperfect options for how they might consider the legislation, and House leaders decided that they would hold a voice vote on the floor rather than a typical recorded vote. They urged members to submit statements into the record in lieu of debating on the floor.

“The risk with a sparsely attended voice vote, though, was that any one member could call a point of order suggesting the absence of a quorum—a majority of the body—thereby requiring a recorded vote. While leaders tried to talk some troublemakers out of pulling such a parliamentary maneuver, one member seemed particularly stubborn.

“Republican Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie had been on the troublemaker watchlists of both parties. While he wouldn’t give a straight answer on what he planned to do, he did confirm that he would be in Washington for the House’s consideration of the bill. And his tweets suggested he was aware of his parliamentary options.”

Long story short, some members of Congress did hastily return to Capitol Hill. In the end, Massie didn’t get his way, and the voice vote on the CARES Act went ahead—and delivered it. I suggest you read Jewell’s story. It’s full of angry tweets from fed-up members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, past and present, who joined forces against Massie. One from former Secretary of State John Kerry is, shall we say, “off-color”:

All it takes is one pain in the ass. This time, the PITA got his just desserts. No Massie! No Massie! – William C. Vantuono

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