Negotiations on revised HEROES Act at full stop

Oct. 7, 2020
President Trump directed his representatives to cease negotiations with House leadership on the next stimulus bill, which includes $32 billion for the transit industry, until after the November elections.

It’s been eight days since the House released an updated version of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act; five days since the House passed the legislation in a 214 to 207 vote; and a few hours since President Donald Trump halted negotiations on the package that included $32 billion for the transit industry.  

In a series of tweets Tuesday afternoon, President Trump said he directed his representatives “to stop negotiating until after the election.” He accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) of “not negotiating in good faith” and noted a stimulus bill would be passed following the Nov. 3 election.

Speaker Pelosi called the ending of negotiations “an act of desperation.”

“Walking away from coronavirus talks demonstrates that President Trump is unwilling to crush the virus, as is required by the HEROES Act. He shows his contempt for science, his disdain for our heroes – in health care, first responders, sanitation, transportation, food workers, teachers, teachers, teachers and others – and he refuses to put money in workers’ pockets, unless his name is printed on the check,” said Speaker Pelosi.

The revised HEROES Act would have provided emergency funding to the transit industry including $18.5 billion in urbanized area formula funds, $2.5 billion for Capital Investment Grants Program recipients, $750 million for rural area formula grants, $250 million for enhanced mobility grants and $10 billion in emergency relief grants. The bill would have also provided Amtrak with $2.4 billion.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left transit systems in financial dire straits. In the nation’s capital, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is delaying non-safety related capital projects, cutting back on its use of contractors, freezing vacancies and is assessing service cuts and layoffs to address a $200-million budget shortfall.

Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) is facing a $215-million deficit in 2021 and has backed off the number of layoffs it was anticipating, but is targeting management salaries – a move the agency’s newly named General Manager and CEO Debra Johnson supports for herself – not filling open positions, possibly delaying capital projects and maintaining service levels at 60 percent of pre-COVID levels.

Agencies across the U.S. share in the refrain: They need additional aid to bridge budget gaps resulting from the pandemic.

A survey conducted last month of American Public Transportation Association (APTA) members found 61 percent of agencies are considering service cuts, capital projects could be delayed, deferred or cancelled at 45 percent of agencies and 31 percent of agencies are considering laying off staff.

Among APTA’s business members, the survey found 86 percent of businesses have seen a reduction in their transit industry business due to the impacts of the pandemic and more than one-third of these businesses have already furloughed employees. Close to one-third of responding business members (31 percent) expressed concern they would have to close their doors and would not survive the pandemic.

In response the news that negotiations had been halted, APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas issued the following statement:

“The American Public Transportation Association calls on Congress and the Administration to return to the negotiating table and work together to provide emergency funding for public transportation as quickly as possible. The crisis is worsening, and the industry’s very survival is at stake.

Without at least $32 billion in additional emergency funding, many public transit agencies will soon be forced to cut services and routes for essential workers, as well as furlough frontline workers, leaving our communities without service and jobs during an unparalleled pandemic.

APTA surveys show that six in 10 public transit systems will need to reduce service and furlough employees in the coming months without emergency federal funding from Congress. In addition, nearly one-half of public transit industry businesses expect to lay off employees, and nearly one-third of transit industry businesses are concerned that they may go out of business if additional federal funding is not provided.

The inability to provide emergency funding blatantly disregards the essential lifeline that public transit plays in our communities. Emergency funding is absolutely necessary to avoid catastrophic decisions that will hurt our riders, our communities, and the nation.”

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Story updated 10/7 8:39 a.m. to incorporate APTA's statement

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.