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Aid for transportation programs around the country was approved as part of the nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed by President Joe Biden on March 11.
The new round of federal emergency aid, backed primarily by Democrats, is meant to help multiple sectors of the economy bounce back from the impact of the pandemic. The bill garnered minimal support from Republicans en route to Biden’s desk for his signature.
The president praised the passage of the bill, referred to as the American Rescue Plan, and signed the large COVID-19 relief into law before expanded unemployment benefits expire March 14.
Biden signed the bill into law a year after the virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
The bill provided $350 billion in state and municipal aid, and it focused mostly on boosting assistance for health care workers, vaccination distribution efforts, certain unemployment benefits and school education initiatives.
The package also included aid for key transportation systems. Specifically, the bill would provide $50 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to reimburse state, local, tribal and territorial agencies for their vaccination efforts. The FEMA funds also are meant to help agencies access personal protective equipment, as well as disinfect public facilities, such as schools and courthouses.
For the transit sector, there would be $30.5 billion for operating costs, including payroll and personal protective equipment. The aid also is meant to keep rural agencies open, and provide service for the elderly population and people with disabilities. Additionally, the aviation sector would receive $8 billion for operations, personnel, and cleaning.
For aerospace manufacturing, there would be $3 billion for temporary payroll support, and Amtrak would receive $1.7 billion for its workforce as well as to assist with restoring daily long-distance service.
Congress’ approval of the bill offered Biden and the Democratic majority a legislative victory as they prepare to kick off consideration of comprehensive infrastructure legislation.
“With this final vote in the House to approve the American Rescue Plan, the American people can rest assured that help is truly on the way,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I am proud of the role my committee and our members played to make sure this legislation keeps frontline transportation workers on the payroll and out of unemployment lines, ensures essential infrastructure projects are kept on track, and helps FEMA get vaccines into arms.”
“This is the most consequential legislation that many of us will ever be a party to,” noted Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Who knows what the future may bring, but nonetheless, on this day we celebrate, because we are honoring a promise made by our president, as we joined with him in promising that help is on the way.”
Meanwhile, a majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill opposed the new round of pandemic aid, criticizing Democrats for legislative overreach and shunning bipartisanship. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took issue with policies added to the legislation.
“This wasn’t a bill to finish off the pandemic. It was a multitrillion-dollar Trojan horse full of bad, old, liberal ideas,” McConnell said March 11. “President Biden’s own staff keep calling this legislation ‘the most progressive bill in American history.’ Hardly the commonsense bipartisanship that he promised.”
“It’s deeply disappointing that Democrats have turned a bipartisan process into a totally partisan exercise,” added Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) “Unfortunately, it’s becoming clear that collaboration is not a part of the new way of doing business in the Democrat-led Senate.”
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