WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate voted 92-6 to allocate $71.4 billion in discretionary budget authority for critical transportation, housing, and community development programs in the fiscal year 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations bill.  The THUD bill was included in a “minibus” spending package, which combined four fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills – Agriculture; Financial Services; Interior-Environment; and Transportation-HUD – into one spending package.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the THUD Appropriations Subcommittee, worked with Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) to write and pass the THUD bill, which includes pressing infrastructure and housing priorities to benefit Rhode Island.  Overall, the bill represents a $1.1 billion increase over fiscal year 2018 – including nearly $10.9 billion in additional infrastructure spending authority as compared to fiscal year 2017.

Reed says the bill will provide Rhode Island with a significant boost in housing, transportation, and community development funding. “This bipartisan bill provides critical investments to improve our transportation and housing infrastructure and to connect more Americans to jobs and opportunities.  It will help strengthen our economy, create jobs, and provide federal funding to upgrade our roads, bridges, airports, seaports, and transit systems,” said Senator Reed.  “Chairman Collins and I worked hard to secure additional federal resources for core housing and transportation projects, economic development initiatives, homelessness prevention, and lead-based paint remediation programs.” 

Reed noted that the bill directs over $26 billion in discretionary appropriations to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in order to improve the safety, reliability, and efficiency of our transportation networks.  These investments will allow for the development of transformative projects across all modes of transportation and will make significant strides to address the deferred maintenance backlog in our airport, highway, rail, and transit systems.

“I am pleased we were able to secure major increases to help states repair and replace aging bridges.  It is imperative that the federal government partner with states to upgrade existing bridge infrastructure to prevent more costly repairs and emergencies down the road,” noted Reed.  “We must make smart investments to improve the safety and efficiency of our transportation network, which is the backbone of our economy.”

The bill also provides over $49 billion in programmatic funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and resoundingly rejects the President’s proposal to eliminate rental assistance for hundreds of thousands of households through attrition, as well as the proposed administrative claw-backs of HUD’s rental assistance, which increase rent burdens on already financially-stressed tenants.  Furthermore, the bill restores funding for critical housing production and economic development programs, which were proposed for elimination in the President’s budget request.  This includes sustained investments in the HOME program and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which give local governments needed resources to develop their communities, support businesses, create jobs, and ensure the availability of decent, affordable housing.

“The Senate THUD bill provides needed investments to expand affordable housing opportunities and offers a strong, bipartisan blueprint we can build on,” continued Reed.  “I am also committed to maintaining strong support for programs, such as CDBG and HOME, which are critically important to families and communities.”

Highlights of the bill include:

Department of Transportation

•  Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER): The bill includes $1 billion for the popular TIGER program, which is now also referred to as the “BUILD” program.  The bill rejects the President’s proposal to eliminate this competitive grant funding, which helps states and communities to make transformative investments in their transportation infrastructure.  Since 2010, Rhode Island has been awarded $108 million in competitive TIGER grants, including a $20 million grant awarded earlier this year for repairs and upgrades along Route 37 in Cranston and Warwick. The bill rejects administrative changes the Trump administration put forward in the FY 2018 competition and instructs DOT to follow earlier program guidance.

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA): The bill provides $49.3 billion for critical highway infrastructure, an increase of $3.3 billion above the FAST ACT authorized level.  This level of funding is $1.8 billion above the fiscal year 2018 level and $3.5 billion above the budget request.  The proposed general fund increase to the FAST Act authorized level includes $2.4 billion in FHWA formula funds, $90 million for railway-highway grade crossing safety, and $800 million for bridge repair and replacement, generating an estimated 42,900 jobs.  The $800 million formula bridge program will provide grants to states and the District of Columbia based on the percentage of bridges in poor condition.  According to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, nearly a quarter of Rhode Island’s 1,162 bridges across the state are structurally deficient.

Under this allocation, Senator Reed estimates Rhode Island will receive over $236.5 million for federal highway programs in contract authority under the FAST Act, plus an additional $69.3 million in general fund appropriations increases, for a total of $305.8 million. Within the general fund increases, Rhode Island will receive $13.3 million in formula highway programs, $55.5 million from the bridge repair and replacement program, and $450,000 for railway-highway crossings improvements. 

Transit: The bill includes a total of $13.514 billion for transit-related activities, of which $2.55 billion is for Capital Investment Grants, $150 million is for WMATA, and $800 million is from general fund increases to FAST Act formula programs. This level of funding is $33 million above the fiscal year 2018 level and $2.4 billion above the budget request. Within the $800 million increase to formula programs, $362 million is for State-of-Good-Repair formula grants, $400 million is for Bus and Bus Facilities grants, and $30 million is for High Density State Apportionments.  This increase in resources will assist transit agencies with purchasing buses and rail cars, building maintenance facilities, and addressing the nation’s $90 billion transit state-of-good-repair backlog.  The bill includes Senator Reed’s amendment rescinding recent policy changes in the Capital Investment Grants.   

As a result of Senator Reed’s work on this bill, Rhode Island is estimated to receive nearly $40.2 million from the Federal Transit Administration under FAST Act contract authority formula programs, plus additional $3.3 million in general fund appropriations for a total of $43.5 million.  The additional general funds increases for Rhode Island are split between thee formula programs: $621,072 in additional funds for State of Good Repair projects; $1,723,671 for additional Bus and Bus Facilities formula funding; and $1,003,426 in additional funds for High Density State Apportionments.

•  Airport Improvement Program (AIP): The bill provides an additional $750 million in general fund resources for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) AIP grants for airport safety, construction, and noise mitigation, for a total funding level of $4.1 billion.   Overall, the bill includes a total of $17.7 billion in budgetary resources for the FAA in fiscal year 2019.

Rail Funding: The bill provides $2.769 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which is $323 million below the fiscal year 2018 level, $1.76 billion above the budget request, and $917 million above fiscal year 2017.  The appropriations for rail safety and infrastructure grants are consistent with the authorized level of funding, and $467 million more than fiscal year 2017.  The bill also set deadlines for grant awards in order to ensure timely expenditure of funds.

- Positive Train Control (PTC): The bill provides $10 million for oversight of PTC implementation at FRA.

- Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Grants: The bill provides $255 million for CRISI grants, which is $338 million less than fiscal year 2018 and $255 million above the President’s budget request. CRISI can be used for a broad number of eligible activities that address safety and infrastructure needs, including deployment of railroad safety technology, such as PTC, and capital projects, such as stations or platforms, rail line relocation or improvement, highway-railway grade crossing improvement projects, and planning and environmental work.

- Federal-State Partnership for State-of-Good-Repair (SOGR): The bill includes $300 million for SOGR, which is $50 million above the fiscal year 2018 level and $300 million above the President’s budget request. These grants support capital investment and maintenance projects on Amtrak State-supported routes.

- Restoration and Enhancement Grants: The bill provides $10 million for Restoration and Enhancement Grants. This level of funding is $10 million below the fiscal year 2018 level and $10 million above the President’s budget request. These grants support operating assistance for new or improved passenger rail service. 

- Amtrak: The bill includes $1.94 billion for Amtrak, of which $650 million is for the Northeast Corridor, consistent with fiscal year 2018.  The bill includes $50 million for safety technology on state-supported routes where PTC is not required.

•  Maritime Administration: The bill meets the national security demands of the Maritime Security Program, providing $300 million for fiscal year 2019, as authorized. Other notable funding increases include: $18 million for capital improvements and maintenance activities at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, $300 million to fully fund the replacement of the second of six state maritime academy training school ships, $20 million for the Small Shipyard grant program, and $7 million for the Marine Highways grant program. An additional $8 million is also provided for state maritime academy ship sharing agreements in order to help with the operating and logistics needs of transporting students between academies to ensure that students are able to perform their required sea time for Coast Guard licensure.

Department of Housing and Urban Development & Related Agencies

•  Community Development Block Grant (CDBG): The bill rejects the President’s proposal to eliminate the CDBG program and includes $3.3 billion.  This funding level will bring approximately $16.5 million in grants to the State of Rhode Island and the cities of Providence, East Providence, Cranston, Pawtucket, Warwick, and Woonsocket in FY 2019, an increase of $1.3 million from FY 2017 and equal to FY 2018 enacted level.  The bill also provides $65 million for the Indian CDBG program.

•  Public Housing Capital Fund: The bill rejects the President’s request to eliminate this program and instead includes $2.775 billion in order to enable public housing agencies to perform the annual routine maintenance and rehabilitation of the nation’s 1.1 million public housing units.  This level of funding is $25 million more than the fiscal year 2018 level and will allow PHAs to perform environmental interventions for lead-based paint hazards in approximately 1,500 public housing units in order to meet HUD’s new blood lead level standard.  This increase to the lead set-aside builds on the $25 million provided in fiscal year 2017, where more than 80 PHAs have identified unmet needs.

•  HOME Investment Partnerships Program: The bill rejects the President’s proposal to eliminate the HOME program, the only federal program dedicated solely to the construction of affordable housing, and instead includes $1.362 billion, consistent with fiscal year 2018 enacted. This formula program will help states and local governments to leverage an additional $5.2 billion in public and private investment in order to produce and preserve approximately 35,000 affordable housing units, as well as to provide rental assistance to an additional 10,500 low-income households in fiscal year 2019.  Additionally, this investment will result in the creation and preservation of nearly 24,000 jobs.

•  Choice Neighborhoods Initiative: The bill rejects the President’s proposal to eliminate Choice Neighborhoods and includes $100 million for neighborhood transformation grants. This level of funding is $50 million below the fiscal year 2018 level. Choice Neighborhoods is a critical resource for community-led transformation and a key tool for state and local governments to improve local infrastructure by redeveloping severely-distressed HUD-assisted housing.

•  Lead-Based Paint Hazard Remediation: The bill provides $260 million for the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes, which is $115 million more than the budget request and $30 million more than fiscal year 2018. This funding level includes up to $170 million for Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control grants, no less than $95 million of which is reserved for those communities with the highest lead-based paint abatement needs. The bill also provides $45 million for the Lead Safe Communities Demonstration program, which will examine the effectiveness of intensive multi-year investments in lead-based paint remediation activities in five low-income communities. This heightened funding is intended to reduce the per unit cost of lead-based paint remediation by creating greater economies of scale and lowering grantees’ administrative expenses. This total funding level will support lead-based paint hazard reductions in up to 15,600 units, providing safer homes for over 55,600 low-income families and individuals, including more than 14,450 children under the age of six. An additional $45 million is also provided to address other health hazards, including radon and mold, in low-income housing.

•  Housing for the Elderly: The bill provides $678 million for the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program, which is $77 million more than the President’s budget request and consistent with fiscal year 2018. This funding will meet the renewal needs of the program, as well as provide $51 million to produce over 370 new units of housing for the elderly. Additionally, the bill includes $10 million for new grants to modify or repair the homes of low-income seniors in order to enable that population to age in place more successfully.

•  Self-Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity: The bill provides a total of $54 million for the SHOP, Section 4, Rural Capacity Building, and Veterans Home Rehabilitation and Modification Pilot programs, consistent with fiscal year 2018. The bill rejects the President’s request to eliminate these programs. These programs offer homeownership opportunities for low-income families through “sweat equity,” provide technical assistance to improve the capacity of local organizations to carry out community development and affordable housing activities, and repair or modify the homes of low-income and disabled veterans to make them more accessible.  The $4 million provided for the Veterans Home Rehabilitation and Modification Pilot program will repair or modify the homes of over 260 low-income and disabled veterans.

•  NeighborWorks America: The bill provides $147 million for NeighborWorks, $7 million more than fiscal year 2018, and rejects the President’s proposal to terminate operations over a two- year period.  This funding will support NeighborWorks’ network of nearly 250 local and regional community development organizations, which provided housing and counseling services to over 455,000 families and individuals and created or maintained 43,600 jobs in fiscal year 2017.

•  Youth Homelessness: The bill includes $80 million in the Continuum of Care program to address youth homelessness, as well as an additional $2 million to assess the incidence and prevalence of youth homelessness nationally.  This level of funding builds on the more than $162 million in combined investments provided since fiscal year 2016.  This funding will allow for Continuum of Care grantees to develop and evaluate new housing and supportive service interventions for youth experiencing homelessness.  The bill also continues to waive third-party documentation requirements for youth in order to rapidly connect those experiencing homelessness to HUD housing and supportive services.  Additionally, the bill continues investments in the Family Unification Program by providing an additional $20 million to support 2,500 new rental assistance vouchers for youth aging out of foster care.

•  Victims and Survivors of Domestic Violence: In November 2016, HUD expanded housing protections beyond public housing and Section 8 to include all HUD-assisted housing programs and required communities to develop emergency transfer plans to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence.  Building on past investments, the bill provides $50 million in new targeted funding to help communities facilitate emergency transfers for victims fleeing domestic and dating violence, and experiencing homelessness.  This level of funding will make grants available to non-profits and local governments for rapid re-housing projects, supportive service projects, and coordinated entry activities through HUD’s Continuum of Care program in order to assist more than 3,750 survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking in fiscal year 2019.

•  HUD-VASH Vouchers: The bill rejects the President’s proposal to eliminate new resources for this program and includes $40 million to provide 5,100 new incremental rental vouchers for veterans experiencing homelessness.  This level of funding is consistent with the fiscal year 2018 enacted level.

•  U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH): USICH, the only federal agency responsible for preventing and ending homelessness, is funded at $3.6 million, consistent with fiscal year 2018 and more than $3.1 million greater than the President’s budget request.  Established under the Reagan Administration as part of the landmark McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, then expanded as part of the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009, USICH has worked across the federal government and private sector to coordinate homeless assistance nationally. The bill rejects the Administration’s proposal to eliminate this agency and instead extends the agency’s operating authority to 2021.

•  HAVEN Act: The bill includes $4 million to implement a pilot program that Senator Reed created through the HAVEN Act to help provide suitable housing for veterans in need.  The Reed provision supports repairs and modifications, such as the installation of wheelchair ramps and bannisters, to the homes of low-income veterans or veterans with disabilities.

Now that the bill has been approved by the full U.S. Senate it must be reconciled with a separate version making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.