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Transit, Housing Get Relief in Massive COVID-19 Assistance Package

Karl Nielsen

President Trump last Friday signed into law the $2 trillion COVID-19 emergency relief package —negotiated in coordination with Speaker Pelosi — passed by Congress earlier today. The deal includes $25 billion for public transportation, an estimated $1.3 billion of which will flow quickly to the Bay Area, and $13.9 billion for emergency housing assistance.

Other items in the package include $45 billion for FEMA disaster relief; direct payments for low- and middle-income households; hundreds of billions of dollars in relief for small and large businesses; extended and expanded unemployment benefits; significant funding for healthcare systems; and much more.

The $1.3 billion in relief for Bay Area transit operators included in the bill, which is formally called H.R. 748: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, represents about 35 percent of the $3.7 billion for all California operators. These funds can be used for expenses related to COVID-19, including reimbursements for lost revenue and operating costs, the purchase of personal protective equipment, and paying the administrative leave of operations personnel due to reductions in service.

The public transit relief is intended to flow quickly to transit operators, and MTC will play a role in this distribution as the official “designated recipient” for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funds. Staff have already begun initial conversations with Bay Area transit operators to develop a set of shared principles and potential distribution methods that best address operators needs arising from the COVID-19 crisis, with the hope of bringing forward a recommended allocation for action by the Commission in April on a first installment of the funding.

On the housing side, $5 billion will go to the national Community Development Block Grant program, which many Bay Area cities and counties rely on to fund economic development and affordable housing in their communities. The bill also includes $4 billion for homeless assistance grants, about $3 billion for rental assistance and public housing operating assistance, and millions more for the housing needs of Native Americans, people living with HIV/AIDS, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

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