WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, upon the recommendation of Congress, has taken steps to preserve the nation’s infrastructure and ensure the maintenance and repairs of the roads traveled by truck drivers every day.
On Thursday, Oct. 1 — the beginning of fiscal year 2021 — Trump signed into law the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8337), which provides fiscal-year 2021 appropriations to federal agencies through Dec. 11, 2020, for “continuing projects and activities of the federal government.”
After clearing the House of Representatives on Sept. 22 with a vote of 359 to 59, with one member voting “present,” H.R. 8337 moved on to the Senate, where it was passed Sept. 30 by a vote of 84 to 10.
Of primary interest to those in the trucking industry is the one-year extension of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, with an additional $13.6 billion added to the nation’s Highway Trust Fund. The act is now set to expire Sept. 30, 2021.
The FAST Act initially signed into law Dec. 4, 2015, by President Barack Obama and administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), was set to expire Sept. 30, 2020. The act ensures long-term funding for surface-transportation programs, and allotted more than $305 billion in federal aid for fiscal years 2016 through 2020.
In a nutshell, the FAST Act is designed to improve mobility on America’s highways through the funding of transportation projects “to ease congestion and facilitate the movement of freight on the Interstate System and other major roads,” according to FHWA.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) was quick to commend the passage of the legislation, but stressed “there is still a great deal of work to be done for the trucking industry” in an Oct. 1 statement.
“We are nevertheless concerned about the continued push for changes that harm small-business truckers,” said Lewie Pugh, executive vice president of OOIDA. “Efforts to increase insurance minimums will be vigorously challenged, and we are determined to see the shortage of safe truck parking addressed as part of a final, long-term reauthorization bill.”
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) also lauded the signing of H.R. 8337.
“We are pleased that Congress approved the $13.6 billion transfer to the Highway Trust Fund and that states will have certainty for planning their 2021 programs, knowing the current surface transportation legislation remains in place for another year,” said Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s executive director, in an Oct. 1 article in the AASHTO Journal. “We look forward to working with Congress and committee staff on a reauthorization that will address the challenges facing surface transportation, including the need for a long-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund.”
The Journal article also noted that, according to an analysis by the AASHTO policy team, the FAST Act extension within the continuing resolution provides:
- Obligation limitation through Dec. 11, 2020, estimated to be $9.1 billion for the Federal-aid Highway Program.
- An extension of FAST Act funding and provisions from fiscal year 2020 to all of fiscal year 2021, including contract authority formula apportionments to states.
- A $10.4 billion general fund transfer to the Highway Trust Fund’s Highway Account and a $3.2 billion transfer to the Mass Transit Account.
- A $14 billion general fund transfer to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, making up for the aviation excise tax holiday included in the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in March.
- Suspension of the Rostenkowski fiscal solvency test for the Mass Transit Account for fiscal year 2021. Without suspending that “test” — crafted by the late Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D), who served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in the 1980s — significant reductions in transit obligation funds would occur in fiscal year 2021.
- An increase to the “multimodal cap” within the U.S. DOT’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, discretionary grant program from $500 million to $600 million.
- An extension of 2017 and 2018 Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD grant program, obligation deadlines through September 30, 2021.
In addition to the FAST Act, H.R. 8337 extends public health, Medicare and Medicaid authorities and programs; several authorities related to veterans benefits; authorities to waive certain requirements for nutrition programs; the National Flood Insurance Program; the Appalachian Regional Commission; the U.S. Parole Commission; the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program; and several authorities related to immigration.
The bill also includes provisions that will allow the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue making certain payments to farmers by accelerating reimbursements to the Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC) for net realized losses. The bill prohibits the USDA from using CCC funds to provide payments or support to fossil fuel refiners and importers.
Other items include the expansion of nutrition-assistance programs; the increase and expansion of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services fees for providing premium processing services for certain immigration-related applications; and reauthorization of a program that provides incentives for corporations to self-report antitrust violations to the Department of Justice.