American Rescue Plan passed in House; president signs into law

March 11, 2021
The bill contains $30.5 billion for transit and $1.7 billion for Amtrak in a third round of emergency funding designed to bridge the extreme revenue gaps brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. transit industry has finalized its third round of emergency funding from the federal government after the House passed the amended American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319) March 10 with a vote of 220 – 211.

President Joe Biden was originally scheduled to the sign the bill into law on Friday per a White House statement:

“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance,” President Biden said. “On Friday, I look forward to signing the American Rescue Plan into law at the White House – a people’s law at the people’s house.”

However, after the enrolled bill arrived earlier than expected, President Biden signed the legislation a day early and plans to hold a celebration with Congressional leaders on Friday.

The funding provided in the bill for transit remains unchanged from the version that the Senate passed last week. As Mass Transit previously reported, the $30.5 billion for transit includes:

  • $26.09 billion for urbanized area formula grants;
  • $317.2 million for rural area formula grants;
  • $50 million for mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities grants;
  • $100 million for non-urbanized intercity bus program recipients;
  • $25 million for planning grants;
  • $2.21 billion in grants for recipients in need of financial assistance to maintain operations over and above the aid that has been provided; and
  • $1.68 billion for qualifying projects in the CIG Program, which includes $250 million for Small Starts projects and $1.43 billion for New Starts and Core Capacity projects.

Amtrak’s $1.7 billion includes $970 million for Northeast Corridor grants and $730 million for National Network grants.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) issued a statement shortly after President Biden signed the legislation in support of the law.

“Given the urgent and immense needs of our industry, the American Public Transportation Association applauds enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” said Paul P. Skoutelas, APTA president and CEO. “The $30.5 billion in emergency assistance demonstrates a clear and continued commitment to public transportation and the important role it plays in America’s economic recovery.

"APTA, on behalf of the public transportation industry, commends the incredible work of the Administration and Congressional leaders in crafting this legislation, specifically President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)."

Skoutelas concluded, "We thank each of these leaders, together with the leaders of the U.S. Department of Transportation and key Congressional committees, for including $30.5 billion of emergency transit funding in the bill and distributing these funds in a manner that ensures that all public transit agencies can continue to be a lifeline for our essential workers and help communities rebuild from the economic devastation caused by the pandemic."

Service cuts off the table, furloughs averted

Within hours of the House passing the bill, several rail and transit providers issued statements detailing what the added emergency funding would mean for their systems.

The American Rescue Plan Act includes language that Amtrak must use at least $166 million of the funds provided to restore frequency on long-distance routes within 90 days of the bill’s enactment, as well as recall furloughed employees.

Amtrak issued a statement shortly after passage of the bill detailing a three-phased approach to fully restoring 12 long distance routes. Daily schedules will be restored on the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder and Texas Eagle on May 24; the Capitol Limited, City of New Orleans, Lake Shore Limited and Southwest Chief will be restored on May 31; and the final phase of daily service will commence on June 7 with the Crescent, Palmetto, Silver Meteor and Silver Star. The railroad also noted it would recall 1,200 furloughed employees through the remainder of FY21 and into FY22.

“This critical funding will benefit the entire Amtrak network, our state and commuter partners, customers and employees,” said Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn. “With this support, we can restore daily long-distance service, bring back employees furloughed as a result of the pandemic and continue our progress on vital capital projects. We will work closely with Congress and the Biden Administration on next steps for funding to support Amtrak’s long-term growth. Funding options include expanding the Amtrak network through new corridor routes, that will create thousands of new jobs, reducing our nation’s carbon footprint and helping the economy recover and flourish in the years ahead.”

In the nation’s capital, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) said it expects to avert proposed service cuts and layoffs. WMATA’s FY22 budget held the possibility of eliminating up to 2,400 jobs, reducing bus service, eliminating weekend rail service and closing 19 rail stations. While the exact share of the new round of funding isn’t known, it’s estimated WMATA will receive approximately $1.4 billion. WMATA Board of Directors Chair Paul Smedberg explained the transit provider plans to move forward with the budget’s public comment period and will vote on a revised FY22 budget in April with the new funding taken into consideration.

In California, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) said the Bay Area is expected to receive $1.7 billion, but, like WMATA, the agency does not know the exact number it will be awarded.

“This new relief helps us balance our budget without layoffs and drastic service cuts. It means we can remain nimble and responsive to changing travel patterns,” BART explained.


Update 1:30 pm 3/11/21: President Joe Biden has signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

Update 3:15 pm 3/11/21: APTA statement added.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction 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.


Illustration: Mass Transit; Top: Pepi Stojanovski/Unsplash; Bottom: Maria Oswalt/Unsplash
Dc Funding Mash Up Illustration