Signing of COVID aid bill enables SMART-TD bus, transit members to get rolling

Published: March 11, 2021

President Joe Biden today signed his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan intended to stabilize the nation’s economy as it continues the task of rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 525,000 people in the United States.

The plan has $30.5 billion in emergency funding reserved to assist transit in the country rebound after an immense drop in use as a result of the coronavirus outbreak nearly one year ago. That amount is $10.5 billion more than the $20 billion requested by Biden in his initial version of the bill that was unveiled before he took office.

Passenger transit services were hit hard by the virus with ridership declining 95% for some carriers. In the initial stages of the pandemic, only essential workers used public transportation as many people in a number of highly populated areas went into lockdown.

“Our bus and transit members have been on the front lines working to provide for their families and to continue to keep the country running in the year since the coronavirus emerged in the United States,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said after the bill’s signing. “The transit funding provided by this plan will provide security for them going forward.”

Amtrak, the nation’s largest passenger rail carrier, also experienced a massive decline in ridership as a result of COVID-19. The carrier is slated to get $1.7 billion to help restore service that had been reduced last autumn, resulting in furloughs of SMART-TD and other unionized workers.

The carrier already announced that it will resume full long-distance service as a result of receiving the funds from the relief plan.

“‘Amtrak Joe’ and Congress has delivered for us,” Hynes said. “The American Rescue Plan is a much-needed boost that will allow Amtrak to recall all of our furloughed members and restore long-distance service very soon.”

The plan passed along party lines in both the U.S. Senate and in the U.S. House except for Democratic Congressman Jared Goldman of Maine, who voted against it.

The American Rescue Plan provides direct payments of $1,400 to individuals making up to $75,000 annually, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments and $14 billion for vaccine distribution. The bill also provides $130 billion to elementary, middle and high schools to assist with safe reopening.

In addition to providing direct payments to individuals, the plan also expands jobless benefits through September and child tax credits to assist families who are continuing to struggle through the pandemic.

“Elections matter, and never more than the last election,” Hynes said. “It’s time to hold those who were elected to office to the promises they’ve made. This is evidence that that is happening.”