House Democrats just unveiled the latest coronavirus relief bill, known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or, HEROES Act. This fifth proposed legislation related to the pandemic economic fallout is a $3 trillion proposal, and far exceeds the previous economic relief vehicle, the CARES Act. The bill also includes a new stimulus check for Americans, $1 trillion for state and local governments, hazard pay for essential workers, additional funding for small businesses, and increases in funding for social safety net programs.
ASCE has been continuously advocating for Congress to address the funding shortfalls impacting the nation’s transportation and water sectors. The HEROES Act does take additional steps to address growing funding shortfalls for the nation’s infrastructure, however some funding levels are still well below identified needs.
The HEROES Act includes $15 billion for state departments of transportation, far short of the $50 billion request from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, but the funds do come at a 100% federal share. Those funds would be distributed through FAST Act formulas in order to provide some immediate relief for state transportation departments. The legislation also includes $15.75 billion for transit agencies, which would be in addition to the $25 billion provided by the CARES Act, but short of the $24 billion additional request from the American Public Transit Association. The majority of transit funds would be allocated through a formula, while $4 billion would be allocated through an application process. Finally, while the HEROES Act does not include additional money for airports, the bill does provide $75 million for the Federal Aviation Administration.
While some of the direct state and local funding provided by the HEROES Act could go to supporting struggling water utilities, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, clean water agencies are estimated to incur tens of billions of dollars in revenue losses as a result of the pandemic. As written, the HEROES Act includes $1.5 billion in assistance for low-income water and sewer service ratepayers, which the Department of Health and Human Services would allocate to the states and then directly to drinking water and clean water utilities. The bill would also ensure that low-income families are protected from shutoffs and late fees and includes a requirement that water services must continue during pandemic. Finally, the bill includes an ASCE priority, resolving the paid sick leave tax parity between public and private employers.
The House is expected to quickly pass the HEROES Act, while Senate Republicans are looking to introduce their own stimulus bill later this month. Congress is expected to pass a final negotiated deal sometime in June. ASCE will continue to advocate for immediate relief for vital infrastructure sectors, and will continue to press Congress about the need to include infrastructure investment in any long-term recovery efforts.