On May 23, the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations approved its FY 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations bill, which funds the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), by a vote of 34 to 17. The appropriations bill would provide $88 billion in total budgetary resources to improve and maintain our nation’s transportation infrastructure, including $27.8 billion in discretionary DOT spending for FY 2019. For HUD, meanwhile, the bill would provide $43.6 billion in FY 2019. The legislation includes full funding for a number of key county priorities, including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the Essential Air Service (EAS) program.
Across the capitol, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee plans to release its FY 2019 T-HUD appropriations bill in early June. Congressional appropriators must set and pass FY 2019 spending levels before the current fiscal year ends on September 30, 2018. If legislators are unable to reach an agreement and pass a spending bill by September 30, a continuing resolution would have to be passed to avoid a government shutdown.
Earlier this year, in February, President Trump released his FY 2019 budget request, which outlined the administration’s federal spending priorities for both DOT and HUD programs, with proposed cuts or funding eliminations for both departments. The budget proposed eliminating funding for CDBG and HOME for FY 2019, similar to the president’s FY 2018 request. The administration also proposed rent increases and work requirements for certain HUD rental assistance programs.
U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
The House appropriations bill includes funding for various transportation and infrastructure programs important to counties.
The House appropriations bill would permit $46 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be spent on the federal aid highways program, $1 billion above the FY 2018 level. This funding matches the levels authorized in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 (P.L. No. 114-94). Counties rely on this funding to support strong federal-state-local partnership to developing infrastructure. Funding will be directed to the following key programs:
- Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Grant program: The bill would provide $750 million for the BUILD discretionary grant program for FY 2019, of which $250 million would be spent on ports, urban and rural projects. Formerly known as TIGER Grants, BUILD Grants were implemented to better reflect the current administration’s infrastructure agenda, including a focus on rural areas and a local match requirement.
- Funding for road and bridge projects: The bill would provide $3.8 billion for FY 2019 to fund road and bridge projects qualifying for the surface transportation block grant program. This would provide added federal capital that would allow counties to address the renovation, expansion and rehabilitation of bridges.
- Bridge bundling programs: The bill would provide a new $250 million investment for FY 2019 for bridge bundling programs. This competitive grant and credit assistance program is targeted at areas where the population density is below 100 individuals per square mile. The funds will allow for highway bridge replacement or rehabilitation projects on public roads demonstrating cost savings by bundling multiple highway or bridge projects. Counties have utilized state bridge-bundling programs in the past, and this new federal investment would allow counties to pool their resources for greater buying power.
The bill would provide $13.6 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), $141 million above FY 2018 levels.
- Transit Formula Grants: Transit formula grants would total $9.9 billion for FY 2019 – a $200 million increase from FY 2018 – to help local communities build, maintain and ensure the safety of mass transit systems. Within this amount, $2.6 billion is provided for Capital Investment Grants, which is level with FY 2018 funding.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
The House appropriations bill would allocate $10.4 billion in discretionary spending for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for FY 2019, $310 million below the FY 2018 enacted level. The FAA supports all air traffic control personnel, including over 14,500 air traffic controllers, 7,400 safety inspectors and operational support personnel. Counties play a critical role in the nation’s air transportation system and own 34 percent of the nation’s publicly-owned airports.
- Essential Air Service (EAS) Program: The bill would receive $175 million in discretionary funding to the EAS program, which complies with the 2014 Compliance Order capping the program at $200 million annually. The FY 2019 funding would be a $20 million increase above FY 2018 enacted levels. The EAS program assists airlines serving rural counties impacted by changes in the airline industry.
- Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP): The bill does not include funding for SCASDP. The FY 2018 omnibus included $10 million for the Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP), a $5 million increase above the FY 2017 level. SCASDP provides communities the opportunity to self-identify air service needs and propose solutions. Participation in the program is limited to those communities where the airport is not larger than a primary small hub, the service is insufficient or air fares to the community are unreasonably high.
Transportation Safety Programs
The legislation contains language impacting various transportation safety regulations, including:
- Policy rider on truck drivers’ hours transporting livestock: The bill includes NACo supported language to exempt livestock and insect haulers from the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) and Hours of Service Final Rule through FY 2019.
- Truck size and weight: The bill would implement changes in response to the effects that increased federal truck weights could impose on bridges, including an increase in funding needs and possible cost implications.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
In addition to funding for DOT, the House bill sets funding levels for many key housing and economic development programs for counties under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including:
- Community Development Block Grant (CDBG): CDBG would receive $3.3 billion, level with FY 2018 funding. NACo strongly supports CDBG, which is used to fund community, infrastructure and economic development programs.
- HOME Investment Partnerships: The HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) program would receive $1.2 billion, a decrease of $160 million compared to the FY 2018 funding level. NACo strongly supports the HOME program, which helps counties design and implement affordable housing programs for low-income residents. HOME funds can be used towards the acquisition and rehabilitation of housing, or towards tenant-based rental assistance, depending on a county’s housing needs.
- Homeless Assistance Grants: Homeless Assistance Grants are funded at $2.55 billion, a $33 million increase above the FY 2018 funding level.
- Housing Choice Vouchers: The bill provides $22 billion for the Housing Choice Vouchers Section 8 program, an increase of $461 million above FY 2018 levels.
- HUD-VASH program: The bill funds the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program at $40 million, level with FY 2018 funding. The HUD-VASH Program combines rental assistance through HUD with wraparound case management services from the VA to reduce homelessness among our nation’s veterans.
In February, President Trump released his FY 2019 budget request, which outlined the administration’s federal spending priorities for both DOT and HUD programs for the next fiscal year, with proposed cuts or funding eliminations for both departments. The budget proposed eliminating funding for CDBG and HOME for FY 2019, similar to the president’s FY 2018 request. The administration also proposed rent increases and work requirements for certain HUD rental assistance programs.