The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal partners to provide guidance to the public transportation industry in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Today, FTA posted 13 new Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding COVID-19 on its website that cover Administrative Relief, Civil Rights, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and Emergency Relief program requirement questions.
These FAQs provide clarity regarding how COVID-19 preparations impact certain FTA requirements. They also contain recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help grantees and subgrantees prepare for COVID-19. (Updated 4/19/2020)
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) FAQs
A: Yes, the CARES Act provides funds to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. Although the priority for the funding is operational expenses, FTA will generally consider all expenses normally eligible under the Section 5307 and 5311 programs that are incurred on or after January 20, 2020 to be in response to economic or other conditions caused by COVID-19and thus eligible under the CARES Act.
In addition, CARES Act funds are available for operating expenses for all FTA Section 5307 and 5311 recipients, including those in large urban areas, and including administrative leave for transit workers.
CA2: What is eligible as an operating expense?
A: Funds available under the CARES Act are available for all operating activities (net fare revenues) that occur on or after January 20, 2020 are eligible.
In general, operating expenses are those costs necessary to operate, maintain, and manage a public transportation system. Operating expenses usually include such costs as driver salaries, fuel, and items having a useful life of less than one year, including personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. See Chapter IV of the Urbanized Area Formula Program circular or Chapter III of the Formula Grants for Rural Areas circular for more information on eligible operating expenses.
The CARES Act funding can be used for administrative leave, such as leave for employees due to reductions in service or leave required for a quarantined worker.
CA3: Is there a limit for how much funding can be used for operating expenses?
A: No. All funds made available under the CARES Act may be used for operating expenses.
CA4: Does the limit on using up to 10 or 20 percent of a recipient’s apportionment of 5307 and 5311 funds for paratransit service in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act apply?
A: No. Funds provided under the CARES Act are available at a 100-percent federal share to maintain operations. As such, there is no limit on the amount of funds made available under the CARES Act that may be used to pay for paratransit service provided on or after January 20, 2020, which is typically an operating expense.
CA5: Are operating costs incurred under operations or maintenance service contracts with third parties, and administrative leave for third-party contractors, including intercity bus providers, eligible for FTA reimbursement under the CARES Act?
A: It depends. Title XII of Division B of the CARES Act provides that administrative leave for public transportation operations personnel is an eligible expense. Expenses under third-party contracts for operations or maintenance services incurred on or after January 20, 2020, including third-party contract employees providing such service who are placed on administrative leave due to reduced service, are eligible for federal reimbursement. Whether an FTA recipient is responsible for such administrative leave will depend on the terms of its third-party contract.
CA6: Are FTA funds available for public transit agencies to reimburse third-party operations and maintenance contractors for the amounts provided in the contracts, even if the levels of service provided by the third-party contractors are reduced because of COVID-19?
A: No. Federal funds can only be used to reimburse FTA recipients for actual operating or maintenance costs. However, an FTA recipient may use federal funds to reimburse a contracted operations or maintenance provider for employees placed on administrative leave if service levels are reduced, if the FTA recipient is responsible for salaries and benefits under the terms of its contract.
CA7: Are states and designated recipients required to adhere to existing FTA-approved State Management Plans for allocation of CARES Act funding within the State or service area?
A: No. States and designated recipients have flexibility to allocate CARES Act funding through a different process than the one described in a previously approved State Management Plan, without prior FTA approval. States should document any deviations in an attachment to the CARES Act funding application. Requirements for fair and equitable distribution and intercity bus consultation under 49 U.S.C. 5311(f) apply to CARES Act funds.
CA8: Is a state required to use its existing State Management Plan to develop a program of projects for CARES Act funds administered under the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311)?
A: No. A State may develop a program of projects consistent with its documented State Management Plan that has been updated to accommodate CARES Act funds.
CA9: Are CARES Act funds administered under the Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) program subject to Program of Projects (49 U.S.C. 5307(b)) requirements?
A: In part. Projects funded with CARES Act funds that are administered under the Urbanized Area Formula Program that involve substantial changes to the function, location, or capacity of transit system assets are subject to all Program of Projects requirements. See 23 CFR 450.218(g)(5) and 23 CFR 450.326(e)(5). Consistent with the emergency exemptions from the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) requirements, all other projects funded by CARES Act funds, including operating assistance projects and capital projects that do not involve a substantial change to the function, location, or capacity of an asset, are subject only to the requirements associated with making the amount of funding available to the recipient public (49 U.S.C. 5307(b)(1)) and making the final program of projects available to the public (49 U.S.C. 5307(b)(7)). Recipients must document the process used to comply with these requirements.
CA10: Are there any restrictions on establishing period of performance end dates for CARES Act grants for operating assistance or preventive maintenance?
A: No. Grants for operating assistance and preventive maintenance using CARES Act funds may cover a period of time that corresponds to the expected spend-down rate of the funds, and the agency may establish the end of the period of performance of the grant accordingly.
CA11: May a transit agency use CARES Act funds to pay intercity bus service providers that it usually pays with State/local funds?
A: Yes. A transit agency may use funding from the CARES Act apportioned through the Formula Grants for Rural Areas (Section 5311) program for any purpose normally allowed through that program, including intercity bus services eligible under 49 U.S.C. 5311(f).
CA12: Does the requirement that grant recipients use one percent of funds apportioned via the Urbanized Area Formula program for public transportation security projects apply to CARES Act funds?
A: Yes. Similar to grants made with annually apportioned Urbanized Area Formula funds, at least one percent of CARES Act funds apportioned via the Urbanized Area Formula program must be used for public transportation security projects, or the recipient must certify that the expenditures are unnecessary (pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 5307(c)(1)(J)).
CA13: If a transit system waives fares for riders, can the transit system use CARES Act funding for operations that those fares would have covered?
A: Funding under the CARES Act can be used to reimburse operating costs associated with providing fare-free service. FTA funds net operating costs, or those costs that cannot reasonably be financed by fare revenues (as defined in 49 U.S.C. 5302(12)). In the case of fare-free service, FTA would fund the total operating costs, as there are no fare revenues to deduct to get to net operating cost.
CA14: Can a public transportation system that has not previously received FTA formula funding receive CARES Act funding as a recipient or a subrecipient, including to pay for administrative leave of operations personnel?
A: Yes. Operators that meet the definition of public transportation service and that are otherwise eligible to be a recipient or subrecipient under the Urbanized Area Formula Program (Section 5307) or the Rural Areas Formula Program (Section 5311) may receive CARES Act funding if allocated funds by the designated recipient. To receive funding as a recipient or subrecipient, the public transportation operations must meet all eligibility and program requirements of either Section 5307 or Section 5311. As a subrecipient, the operator must receive CARES Act funding through an existing designated or direct recipient of Urbanized Area or Rural Area formula funding. 49 USC 5302(4), 5307(c), 5311(a)(2).
CA15: How will FTA reimburse grantees for lost revenue, which is eligible under the CARES Act?
A: FTA will reimburse any eligible expenses incurred on or after January 20, 2020, including eligible expenses that would have otherwise been paid for by the lost revenue. This includes all the expenses normally eligible under Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) or the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311) that occurred on or after January 20, 2020, at a 100% federal share. It also includes reimbursement of any net operating expenses for all Urbanized Area and Rural recipients. Operating costs are those costs necessary to operate, maintain, and manage a public transportation system. Operating expenses usually include such costs as driver salaries, fuel, and items having a useful life of less than one year, including personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. See Chapter IV and the Appendix C of the Urbanized Area Formula Program Circular or Chapter III of the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Circular for more information on eligible operating expenses and how to calculate them. CARES Act funding also can be used for administrative leave, such as leave for employees due to reductions in service or leave required for a quarantined worker. The type of lost revenue does not matter and the applicant does not need to identify the amount of lost revenue in the grant application.
CA16: May a recipient modify a third-party contract to require the payment of administrative leave of operations or maintenance personnel or for other operations or maintenance expenses, including expenses to retain readiness for operations and maintenance activities, and fixed expenses such as rent?
A: Yes. Administrative leave is an eligible expense for operations and maintenance personnel whether those personnel are in-house or employed by contractors. Recipients may also modify contracts to pay for eligible operating/maintenance expenses required to retain readiness or eligible fixed operations/maintenance expenses such as rent, even if service is reduced.
CA17: If a transit worker must be put on administrative leave because of a presumptive or confirmed case of COVID-19, is the employee’s pay during this time an eligible expense?
A: Yes. This may be categorized as an emergency protective measure taken to protect public health and safety. The employee must be in pay status to be an eligible expense. 2 CFR 200.305.
CA18: Can a transit provider temporarily suspend charging fares?
A: Yes. If a recipient operates fixed route service that is now fare-free, complementary ADA paratransit service also must be fare-free. 49 CFR 37.131(c).
CA19: What is the period of availability to obligate or spend CARES Act funding?
A: Funds are available until expended. There is no lapse date to obligate funds available under the CARES Act. Transit systems are encouraged to spend funds expeditiously to respond to local needs.
CA20: Is there a deadline by which funds must be used?
A: No, however grants for operating expenses may not be used for operating expenses incurred prior to January 20, 2020.
CA21: Does the requirement apply that states must use at least 15 percent of the Formula Grants for Rural Area Program (49 USC 5311) funding for intercity bus transportation, unless the Governor certifies, after consultation with affected intercity bus service providers, that the intercity bus service needs of the State are being met adequately?
A: Yes. All requirements for the Section 5311 program apply unless otherwise noted.
CA22: Do projects have to be in the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP)?
A: It depends. CARES Act funds used to pay for operating expenses do not need to be included in the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). CARES Act funds used to pay for capital expenses for emergency relief do not need to be included in the TIP/STIP unless the projects are for substantial functional, locational, or capacity changes. 23 CFR §§ 450.326(e)(5), 450.218(g)(5). Accordingly, capital projects to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 that involve substantial functional, locational, or capacity changes must be included in the TIP/STIP.
CA23: Do CARES Act grants have to be sent to the Department of Labor (DOL) for certification?
A: Yes. The CARES Act requires that grants using funds made available under the CARES Act receive DOL certification consistent with current Section 5307 and 5311 procedures.
CA24: Does a new split letter need to be submitted by designated recipients of CARES Act funding?
A: Yes. Split and/or sub allocation letters must be updated to include funds made available under the CARES Act. Once suballocation letters for FY 2020 funding are finalized, they should be uploaded as part of the application into TrAMS. Recipients are encouraged to work expeditiously to agree upon the sub allocation of CARES Act funds.
CA25: Can I seek a waiver from requirements under the Emergency Relief docket for CARES Act funds?
A: Yes. The Emergency Relief docket remains open and available for requests for relief from FTA statutory and administrative requirements of Section 5307 and 5311 funding in states that have declared an emergency or the President has declared a disaster.
CA26: What supporting documentation does FTA need from operators to support a reimbursement request under the CARES Act?
A: No special documentation is required for CARES Act funding apart from the documentation that is normally required for expenses under the Urbanized Area Formula Grants (49 U.S.C. § 5307) and Formula Grants for Rural Areas (49 U.S.C. § 5311) programs. Grant recipients who have not been eligible for operating assistance in the past may ask their FTA Regional Office about required documentation, or refer to FTA Circular 9030.1E (Urbanized Area Formula Program: Program Guidance and Application Instructions) Appendix C (Operating Assistance) for information about calculating and documenting operating costs.
CA27: Can CARES Act funds be used to match other federal funds?
A: It depends. CARES Act funds generally may not be used to meet the local match requirement for other FTA or DOT grants (49 U.S.C. § 5307(d)(3)). However, if a federal program explicitly allows other federal funds to be used as match and the project meets all requirements of the participating federal agencies, then CARES Act funds may be eligible as match for such a program.
CA28: Does a state need to conduct a new consultation process for CARES Act funds if the state has previously held a consultation process and certified that the state’s intercity bus service needs are met and less than 15 percent of their Formula Grants for Rural Areas (49 U.S.C. § 5311) funds will be allocated to intercity bus expenses?
A: Yes, a state that intends to allocate less than 15 percent of CARES Act funds for intercity bus expenses must undergo a new consultation process under federal public transportation law (49 U.S.C. § 5311(f)(2)) if the previous consultation process concluded prior to April 2, 2020, when FTA apportioned CARES Act funds. A state’s intercity bus needs may have changed since the last consultation.
CA29: Does the CARES Act provide additional Rural Transportation Assistance Program (RTAP) funding?
A: No, the CARES Act does not provide additional funding for RTAP. Previously apportioned RTAP funds can be used to provide training and information related to the CARES Act.
ER1: Is funding available under FTA’s Emergency Relief Program for public transportation expenses related to COVID-19?
A: Capital and operating activities undertaken in response to COVID-19 are eligible for reimbursement under the Urbanized Area Formula Program (49 U.S.C. 5307) and Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (49 U.S.C. 5311). FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams has issued a Notice of Concurrence with declarations of emergency issued by Governors that relate to COVID-19. Accordingly, for recipients in states in which the Governor has declared such an emergency (49 U.S.C. 5324), FTA will permit Urbanized Area Formula Program or Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program funding to be used for COVID-19-related public transportation capital or operating expenses at an 100-percent federal share, regardless of whether operating expenses generally are an eligible expense for a recipient.
Pursuant to FTA’s Emergency Relief rule at 49 CFR part 602, eligible activities include emergency protective measures to eliminate or lessen threats to public health and safety, such as performing enhanced cleaning/sanitizing of rolling stock, stations, bus shelters, etc.; placing hand sanitizer dispensers in high-traffic areas; and providing personal protective equipment as appropriate.
ER2: How can FTA funding support transit agency response measures?
A: FTA grantees may use their Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) and Formula Grants for Rural Areas (Section 5311) funds to take protective measures to protect health and safety, such as cleaning of rolling stock, which is considered preventive maintenance (a capital expense) and is eligible for an 100-percent federal match. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and other measures are eligible as either a maintenance or operating expense, whichever is appropriate.
ER3: Can Section 5311 Rural Transportation Assistance Program (RTAP) funds reimburse recipients for cancelled training?
A: Yes, if the training costs are explicit in the award document and the recipient cannot renegotiate or obtain a refund of the costs, Section 5311 RTAP funds may be used to pay the fees.
ER4: When will this emergency relief program eligibility be effective and for how long?
A: Recipients have pre-award authority effective on the date that the Governor or appropriate state official declared a state of emergency, or an earlier incident date if the declaration specifies one. If the President has also made a major disaster declaration for the state, pre-award authority is effective from the start of the earliest incident period. As of April 17, 2020, the President has declared a major disaster with an incident period start date of January 20, 2020 for all states and territories. The flexibility will remain in place for eligible expenses incurred for the duration of the relevant state of emergency. Recipients may use any currently apportioned Section 5307 or 5311 funding for these expenses including funds that may be currently obligated for other purposes but not expended.
ER5: What is the start date for Section 5311 subrecipients to incur expenses at a 100-percent federal share?
A: Recipients have pre-award authority effective on the date that the Governor or appropriate state official declared a state of emergency, or an earlier incident date if the declaration specifies one. If the President has also made a major disaster declaration for the state, pre-award authority is effective from the start of the earliest incident period. As of April 17, 2020, the President has declared a major disaster with an incident period start date of January 20, 2020 for all states and territories. The flexibility will remain in place for eligible expenses incurred for the duration of the relevant state of emergency.
ER6: Does the flexibility for formula funding include Section 5310?
A: No. By law, only the Urbanized Area Formula Program and the Rural Formula Program funds can be used under the provisions of FTA’s Emergency Relief Program.
ER7: If a tribal government declared a State of Emergency before the state in which it is located, may the tribal transit provider use that earlier date?
A: Yes, a transit provider affiliated with the tribal government may use the earlier date.
ER8: Are all operating expenses eligible under the additional flexibilities for existing formula funds?
A: No. Only those expenses directly related to responding to COVID-19 are considered emergency relief and eligible for Section 5307 or Section 5311 funds under the FTA’s Emergency Relief Program. See the Emergency Relief Manual (49 U.S.C. 5324). Examples of such expenses include:
Section 5307 and section 5311 funds may be used to reimburse operating expenses not directly related to responding to COVID-19, including maintaining regular or reduced service, at the standard Federal share for those recipients that are normally eligible for operating assistance.
ER9: Do agencies have to amend the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and the Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP)) before applying for grants using this eligibility?
A: No. FTA planning regulations at 23 CFR 450.218(g)(5) and 450.326(e)(5) provide that emergency relief projects, such as those eligible under the expanded COVID-19 eligibility, are not required to be in the STIP or MTIP if they do not involve substantial changes to the function, location, or capacity of the asset(s) involved. Expenses related to cleaning vehicles, purchasing cleaning materials or personal protective equipment, and shutting down or restarting service do not need to be included in the STIP/MTIP.
ER10: Will the increased flexibilities have an impact on how Section 5307 formula funds are programmed in the grant application?
A: Yes, please work with your FTA Regional Office to determine the proper Transit Award Management System (TrAMS) code to use for COVID-19 related emergency response activities.
ER11: Does a State DOT need to amend all active operating grants in TrAMS and grant agreements with sub-recipients?
A: Yes, for grants in which the State DOT and/or its subrecipients will use the expanded flexibilities. Active grant award recipients, under programs Section 5307 and 5311, that would like the increased flexibility offered will need to complete an award amendment or submit a new application. Award recipients will need to realign funds provided to sub-recipients specifically for COVID-19 Response Activities to the “ER” Account Classification Code (ACC), which was set up by the recipient for the increased flexibility.
ER12: Will FTA waive the local match requirement of the Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) and the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311) funds under the flexibilities of FTA’s Emergency Relief program to be consistent with the CARES Act?
A: Yes, FTA has waived the remaining local share requirement for the Section 5307 and Section 5311 programs used under the provisions of FTA’s Emergency Relief program to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency (49 CFR 602.9(c)). Note, this is only for expenses related to response to COVID-19, and not all uses of previously appropriated 5307/5311 funds.
ER13: Is administrative leave also eligible as an operating expense for the Urbanized Area Formula Grants Program (Section 5307) and the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311) funds under the flexibilities of FTA’s Emergency Relief program to be consistent with the CARES Act?
ER14: If a recipient wants to make use of the added flexibility and increased Federal share for existing Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) and the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311) formula funds, must the recipient amend its grants in TrAMS prior to incurring costs?
A: No. Recipients have pre-award authority back to the date their Governors declared a state of emergency or, if in a State with a major disaster declaration, January 20, 2020. Recipients do not need to amend their grants in TrAMS prior to incurring costs related to COVID-19 response. 49 CFR 602.11.
ER15: Are the additional eligibilities and increased Federal share for existing Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) and the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311) funds used to respond to COVID-19 applicable to ferry service?
A: Yes. Operators of ferry service may use existing Section 5307 or Section 5311 formula funds with the same increased flexibilities as other Section 5307 or Section 5311 recipients. However, funds awarded competitively through the Passenger Ferry Grant Program (49 U.S.C. 5307(h)) are for specific capital projects, and the flexibilities for formula funding do not apply.
ER16: Does the increased Federal share and expanded eligibilities apply to all available Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) and the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311) funds?
A: Yes. Any Section 5307 and Section 5311 funding that has not already been disbursed by the recipient or passed its period of availability may be used for COVID-19 response at the increased Federal share of 100%. Recipients that have open Section 5307 or Section 5311 awards that are within their period of availability, and otherwise would be available to be amended or have the budget revised, may use those funds at the increased federal share for COVID-19 response. Grantees may also apply for new awards using the increased federal share, regardless of the funding account year.
ER17: How does the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311) Federal share sliding scale apply to the increased Federal share for existing Section 5311 funds for COVID-19 related expenses?
A: Recipients previously approved to use a federal share sliding scale may use the larger Federal share.
CE1: What is meant by administrative leave?
A: Administrative leave is an administratively authorized absence from duty without loss of pay or reduction in an employee’s available leave. In the context of the COVID-19 public health emergency, administrative leave could include, but is not limited to, leave for an employee who is not required to work due to a reduction in service or leave for a worker who is quarantined after potential exposure to an individual infected with COVID-19.
CE2: May CARES Act funds or Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) and the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311) funds administered under FTA’s Emergency Relief program (49 USC 5324) be used to pay otherwise eligible operations or maintenance expenses for contracts entered into prior to January 20, 2020, regardless of whether those contracts met federal requirements when awarded?
A. Yes. Under the authority of the Emergency Relief program to set the necessary terms and conditions of a grant (49 USC 5324 (d)(1), FTA will permit funds to be used for operations and maintenance expenses incurred after January 20, 2020, even if the original contract did not meet all Federal requirements. Any new contracts would need to follow all federal requirements.
CE3: May recipients use FTA funds to pay employees who are isolating in stand-by status in order to work if another employee gets sick?
A: Yes. Stand-by status is an eligible operating expense.
CE4: Can CARES Act funds or Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) and the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311) funds administered under the provisions of the Emergency Relief program (49 USC 5324) be used for the operating costs of essential services such as meal delivery?
A: Yes. The use of transit vehicles is eligible as an incidental use if the delivery services do not conflict with the provision of transit services or result in a reduction of service to transit passengers. As part of Emergency Relief efforts authorized by 49 U.S.C. 5324, FTA also will permit recipients to use Section 5307/5311 funds administered under the provisions of the Emergency Relief program or CARES Act funds for up to 6-months from January 20, 2020, to pay for the operational costs of such services. In addition, this service is eligible for FEMA’s Public Assistance program, and to maximize the funding available to them to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency, FTA recommends that recipients check with their State Office of Emergency Services to determine whether those resources are available, or to seek reimbursement from the entity requesting the service. A recipient may charge only costs not covered by other entities to an FTA grant.
CE5: Is the operating portion of the capital cost of contracting eligible for reimbursement at the increased federal share?
A: Yes. For CARES Act funding, the operating portion of the capital cost of contracting would be eligible at a 100 percent Federal share for all expenses after January 20, 2020. For non-CARES Act Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) and the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program (Section 5311) funds with the increased emergency response flexibilities, the increased Federal share applies only for operating costs incurred for activities performed in response to COVID-19.
CE6: Are costs associated with shifting transit system administrative workers to work-from-home arrangements eligible for federal funding?
A: Yes. Purchases necessary to continue operations in the present emergency are allowed. Items such as laptops, remote secure access (RSA) keys, monitors, printers, etc. are eligible regardless of their relation to COVID-19 response when purchased using CARES Act funds for eligible transit purposes. When purchased using previously apportioned Urbanized Area Formula program (Section 5307) or Rural Areas Formula program (Section 5311) funds using expanded eligibilities under FTA’s Emergency Relief program, the recipient must document the relationship of such purchases to COVID-19 response. (49 USC 5324(b)(2)).
CE7: Do the normal Urbanized Area Formula Program (49 USC 5307) and the Formula Grants for Rural Area Program (49 USC 5311) requirements apply to these funds?
A: Yes, all the normal Section 5307 and 5311 requirements apply to funds made available under the CARES Act, with the following exception:
Note: The Emergency Relief docket remains open and available for requests for relief from FTA statutory and administrative requirements of Section 5307 and 5311 funding in states that have declared an emergency or the President has declared a major disaster under Section 401 of the Stafford Act.
CE8: What is the federal share of a CARES Act grant?
A: The federal share for all grants awarded under the CARES Act is up to 100 percent, at the discretion of the recipient.
CE9: Has FTA waived any federal requirements?
A: FTA has established an Emergency Relief docket that allows recipients in states in which the Governor has declared an emergency related to COVID-19 to request temporary relief from federal requirements under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 53 as well as the provisions of any non-statutory FTA requirements. The ER docket should only be used to request a waiver of federal requirements. All other questions regarding COVID-19 should be directed to FTAresponse@dot.gov.
Some federal requirements include specific provisions related to emergencies, and therefore, no FTA waiver is necessary. For example, federal procurement standards established in 2 CFR part 220.317-326 permit the use of a noncompetitive (sole source) procurement when the circumstances of an emergency (or public exigency) would not permit a delay resulting from competitive solicitation.
CE10: Can public transportation assets, such as vehicles and facilities, acquired with FTA funds be used for non-transit activities in response to COVID-19?
A: Yes. FTA Circular 5010.1E provides that such use must not conflict with the approved purposes of the asset and must not interfere with the intended transit uses of the project property. An acceptable incidental use, such as meal or grocery delivery, does not affect a property’s transit capacity. In cases where a recipient has reduced service levels in response to COVID-19, the recipient may utilize FTA funded assets for other emergency response activities as long as such use does not interfere with its remaining limited service.
CE11: May recipients add new routes to take schoolchildren to school or other sites for meals?
A: Yes. Recipients may establish new routes that serve critical community needs at any time. FTA’s charter rule at 49 CFR 604.3(c)(1) defines charter service as the exclusive use of a bus or van for a negotiated price. If a recipient provides exclusive transportation for schoolchildren to meal sites, and the service is funded by a third-party, such service would be categorized as a charter service. Although normally prohibited under FTA formula funding, charter service is eligible for COVID-19 response for up to 45 days from the beginning of each state of emergency incident period. For charter services lasting longer than 45 days, the recipient should submit a request to the Emergency Relief Docket.
CE12: Can Urbanized Area Formula Grant (Section 5307) recipients program operating funding above what is stated in Table 3a of the FY2020 apportionment? Is it simply a shift in COVID-19 operating expenses to eligible capital line items?
A: Yes. Under FTA’s emergency relief authority (49 U.S.C. 5324), recipients of Urbanized Area Formula Grants (5307) may use any of the Section 5307 funding currently allocated to the agency, including unexpended funds in obligated grants, for operations activities in response to COVID-19. Recipients may use as much of that for operating expenses as needed, beyond the maximum specified in the apportionment tables, as long as those expenses are in response to COVID-19. The project sponsor should first contact the FTA Regional Office to discuss the request.
CE13: If a grant recipient has already drawn down funds from an obligated grant, can the recipient return that funding and create a new grant using CARES Act or previously apportioned Urbanized Area Formula Grants (Section 5307) and Formula Grants for Rural Areas (Section 5311) funding?
A: No. Previous amounts that have been drawn down may not be returned and exchanged for funds from a different source.
CE14: May agencies pay a temporary bonus to operators who continue to work?
A: It depends. Under the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards, a federal award may be used for bonus or incentive compensation when the overall compensation is reasonable and paid or accrued based on an agreement entered into before the services were rendered (2 CFR § 200.430(f)). If a grant recipient does not have such an agreement in place, it may create one that would allow payment of bonus or incentive pay from that point forward, but it would not be able to pay a bonus for work performed prior to the agreement.
CE15: Will FTA waive National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for projects implemented in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency?
A: NEPA continues to apply during the COVID-19 public health emergency. FTA anticipates that most projects completed in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, such as operations and purchasing personal protective equipment, would fall within FTA’s C-list NEPA categorical exclusions (CE), found at 23 CFR § 771.118(c). C-list CEs require the lowest level of NEPA review and typically can be approved by FTA within TrAMS, FTA’s grant management system. If a project does not fall under a C-list CE, FTA recommends the grant recipient contact their FTA Regional Office to discuss NEPA compliance further.
OF1: Are FEMA resources available to respond to COVID-19?
A: FEMA Public Assistance funding may be available to purchase personal protective equipment for operations personnel, to sanitize public facilities, and to assist with grocery and meal delivery. Recipients should check with their State Office of Emergency Services to determine whether those resources are available to maximize the funding available to them to respond to COVID-19.
CR1: May a transit agency restrict Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complementary paratransit trips to essential medical trips?
A: No. The DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR 37.131(d) expressly prohibit paratransit providers from imposing restrictions or priorities based on the trip purpose. Further, medical trips are not the only trips that may be essential to a passenger. An agency may send a request and encouragement to its paratransit customers asking them to cancel all nonessential trips. Transit agencies often use this approach, for example, in impending weather events. If a paratransit rider, however, wants to take a trip, the agency cannot deny the request due to the purpose of the trip.
The establishment of trip purpose restrictions or priorities is permitted under 49 CFR 37.133(c) only for subscription service. Further, because DOT ADA regulations do not require subscription service, it may also be suspended or cancelled.
CR2: Are Title VI equity analyses required for emergency service cuts and changes during COVID-19?
A: No. Under FTA’s Title VI Circular 4702.1B, transit providers that operate 50-or-more fixed route vehicles in peak service and are located in an urbanized area (UZA) with a population of 200,000 or more, must perform a service equity analysis whenever they make a major service change. The service equity analysis evaluates the impacts of the proposed service changes on Title VI-protected populations and low-income populations. Temporary service changes in response to an emergency do not rise to the level of a major service change, so a service equity analysis is not required. Similarly, FTA exempts all temporary fare changes enacted as a result of an emergency from the fare equity analysis requirement. However, if a transit agency chooses to make permanent any changes made during an emergency, then the transit agency must perform a service or fare equity analysis.
FTA does expect that all transit agencies take reasonable measures to implement temporary service or fare changes equitably to prevent unintentional discrimination. FTA does not require a transit agency to document this process, get board approval prior to implementing changes, or share documentation on the changes with FTA, but FTA recommends that transit agencies document the rationale for specific service reductions, as well as steps taken to ensure equitable reductions in service, in the event someone files a complaint.
CR3: May a transit agency deny service to a transit rider with a disability who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19?
A: A transit agency should contact local and State public health officials, who generally coordinate information with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to determine under what circumstances service may be denied to any transit rider, regardless of whether they have a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require an agency to exempt riders with disabilities from this local determination. The DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR 37.5(h) provide that an agency may deny service to a person with a disability who “represents a direct threat to the health or safety of others.” A “direct threat” is defined, in part, by 49 CFR 37.3, as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others.”
CR4: If a transit agency suspends fares temporarily on its fixed route service to limit interactions between operators and passengers or to limit public contact with fare equipment due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, does it also need to provide free fare on its complementary paratransit service?
A: Yes. Under the DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR 37.131(c), the fare for an ADA paratransit trip may not exceed more than twice the fare for a similar trip made using the fixed route system, without regard to discounts. FTA has regarded promotional, occasional fare-free days on fixed route service as a form of a discount, and has not also required paratransit service to be free during the limited time of the promotion. In this case, however, if the fixed route system is fare-free to limit interactions between the passenger and the operator, it would not be a discount, and the transit agency must do the same for the paratransit system per 49 CFR 37.131(c).
CR5: If a transit agency closes the front door of its buses to boarding to support social distancing, may the agency refuse service to wheelchair users and other people with disabilities who would otherwise need to use the front door where the ramp is located?
A: No. Transit systems should have procedures in place such as rear-door entry to ensure that social distancing is being observed by the system and transit riders to protect transit operators and the public. See FTA Safety Advisory 20-01. Some exceptions to rear-door-only boarding policies, however, are necessary for ADA compliance. Under DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR 37.5(a), no entity may discriminate against an individual with a disability in connection with the provision of transportation service; per 49 CFR 37.165(b), individuals using wheelchairs must be transported in the agency’s vehicles.
Wheelchair users are not the only persons with disabilities who may require the use of the front door of the vehicle. Per 49 CFR 37.165(g), ambulatory persons with disabilities also must be permitted to use the lift or ramp on request, and persons who are blind, for example, may require the use of the route identification mechanism required under 49 CFR 37.167(c) to identify the correct bus to board. Not all waiting passengers with disabilities who need to enter at the front will have a visible disability or be using mobility aids such as canes or walkers; per the regulation, the agency must accommodate such individuals at the front door as well.
When implementing a rear-door-only boarding policy, a transit agency should take steps to minimize confusion for riders and personnel. This effort could include conducting outreach to the disability community through local media channels and social media, informing riders of the policy and what to do if they require the use of the ramp or lift, and development of procedures and instructions for personnel.
CR6: May a transit agency suspend its mandatory wheelchair securement policy to reduce the need for its operators to be in close proximity to a rider to lessen the potential for exposure to COVID-19?
A: Yes. The DOT ADA regulations do not explicitly require the use of the securement system; under 49 CFR 37.165(c)(3), an agency may determine for itself whether or not securement will be mandatory for its system. Agencies, therefore, are free to suspend any mandatory securement policy that they may have in place. However, even if an agency suspends a mandatory securement policy, 49 CFR 37.165(f) still requires that the operator assist with the use of the securement system should an individual passenger make a request.
CR7: To comply with stay-at-home directives designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, may a transit agency change its service from fixed route to demand-responsive for essential transportation only?
A: Yes. Local transit agencies determine the type of service they offer. While there are no Title VI or ADA concerns with a proposal to move from a fixed route to a demand-responsive service (FTA does not require a service or fare equity analysis for a temporary service or fare change as a result of an emergency), note that under DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR 37.77, all vehicles used in demand-responsive service must be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including wheelchair users, or equivalent service must be provided according to the specific criteria contained in 49 CFR 37.77(c). In addition, once the system completes its move to demand-responsive service, the obligation to provide ADA complementary paratransit no longer is applicable. For more information on ADA requirements for demand-responsive service, see Chapter 7 of FTA Circular 4710.1.
CR8: May a transit agency shut down its ADA paratransit operations while still operating fixed route services due to COVID-19 concerns?
A: No. So long as the fixed route system is operating, the DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR 37.121 obligate the agency to continue operating complementary paratransit according to the service criteria contained in 49 CFR 37.131. If a transit agency makes adjustments to the fixed route system’s routes or schedules to accommodate the COVID-19 public health emergency, or shuts down the fixed route service entirely, the agency may make similar adjustments to the paratransit system. Where an agency’s ADA paratransit contractor is contemplating shutting down service when fixed route service continues, the agency should consult with its contracting office to determine appropriate steps to ensure that ADA paratransit service continues comparable to the fixed route service being provided.
CR9: May an agency suspend in-person assessments for ADA paratransit eligibility for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency? May an agency process applications remotely, or by paper only, or suspend eligibility determinations entirely during this time?
A: Transit systems are free to suspend in-person assessments and use a remote or paper process for eligibility determinations. The DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR 37.125 do not require in-person assessments for paratransit eligibility, and in fact do not specify how the eligibility process should work. Because a paper or virtual process is not typically as effective in assessing functional ability accurately, a transit system also may decide to be overly broad in who they find eligible, and then reassess during regular recertification sometime in the future. Note that because applicants would be presumptively eligible after 21 days under 49 CFR 37.125(c) if their applications are not processed, a transit system may wish preemptively to offer presumptive eligibility for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, subject to reevaluation once the public health emergency ends. Complete suspension of the eligibility process is not permitted, because 49 CFR 37.131(f)(2) specifically prohibits the use of wait lists to access the service.
CR10: Do transit agencies need to submit Title VI Programs during the COVID-19 public health emergency?
A: No. FTA is postponing the submission of all Title VI Programs with current or upcoming due dates until October 1, 2020. Recipients may use their current on-file Title VI Programs through November 30, 2020, unless a recipient voluntarily updates its program with a submission before that date. FTA is making adjustments in TrAMS to ensure no outstanding civil rights program requirements will hold up the awarding of grants.
CR11: Do transit agencies have an extension to submit their Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) triennial goals, due August 1, 2020, to FTA because of the COVID-19 public health emergency?
A: Yes. For those recipients with DBE goals due August 1, 2020, FTA is extending the due date to October 1, 2020, and will update TrAMS to reflect the extension. This extension is consistent with a DOT guidance memorandum issued April 1, 2020.
CR12: How should FTA recipients under the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program report and track multiple, ongoing purchases from a single vendor?
A: Recipients should make use of race-neutral measures, such as small business programs, technical and financial assistance, and unbundling of contracts to increase the ability and capacity of DBEs and other small businesses to perform contracts with CARES Act funding (49 CFR §§ 26.39, 26.51). Direct purchases by the recipient from a supplier or vendor (i.e., those contracts without subcontracting possibilities) always should be race-neutral (i.e., a contract-specific DBE goal is not applied to the purchase and DBE status is not a deciding factor in award or purchase). 49 CFR § 26.51(e)(1). FTA assumes most purchases of items, such as personal protective equipment, would be through direct procurement methods and therefore race-neutral.
The DOT DBE regulations (49 CFR § 26.37(b)) require recipients to have a mechanism to verify that the work committed to DBEs at contract award is actually performed by the DBEs. For the purposes of simplifying reporting and tracking, recipients may count multiple, ongoing purchases with a single vendor as a single contract awarded and completed on Uniform Reports (e.g. fuel, vehicle parts, vehicle servicing, or other purchase orders).
CR13: Due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, what options do FTA recipients have for conducting site visits for firms applying for Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification?
A: Recipients are not required to conduct in-person site visits for purposes of DBE certification in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency. On March 24, 2020, DOT issued a memorandum providing interim guidance on DBE certification procedures that are consistent with social distancing. The memorandum explains that on site visits may be conducted using computer, tablet, and mobile device technologies, and that recipients may photograph necessary items from within their vehicles. The memorandum also references the regulatory provision that allows recipients to rely on site visit reports produced by other DOT recipients. DOT issued a subsequent memorandum on April 1, 2020, that further addresses electronic review and submission of certification documents.
CR14: What guidance does FTA have for Title VI requirements regarding limited English proficient (LEP) populations when transit agencies provide information to riders on service changes and other important updates?
A: A recipient must follow its locally developed Title VI Program, which includes a Language Access Plan. The plan will describe how the recipient provides language assistance services by language to the LEP populations it serves, including during temporary service reductions. Per FTA Circular 4702.1B, Chapter III, Section 9, examples of vital documents that must be translated include a notice of a person’s rights under Title VI and “other documents that provide access to essential services.” Failure to translate vital information could result in a recipient denying an LEP person access to services and discrimination on the basis of national origin.
TA1: May transit providers post signs requesting those who are sick or who have had contact with COVID-19 not to board the van?
A: Yes, transit providers may post such signs but they are not required to do so. Transit agencies should make decisions about health precautions and how best to implement them in collaboration with local health officials. These are local decisions.
TA2: How should a public transportation system determine whether it should suspend operations in an area with an outbreak?
A: FTA grantees should follow the direction of local and state public health and law enforcement agencies. This local and state information generally is coordinated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security and is the most accurate assessment of the situation locally. A transit agency also should notify FTA before suspending operations.
TA3: What are other transit agencies doing in response to COVID-19?
A: Many transit agencies are responding with safety alerts and documents, including:
TA4: Transit workers are identified as essential critical infrastructure workers by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and FTA issued Safety Advisory 20-01 recommending that transit agencies develop procedures and implement them consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance to the maximum extent possible. Accordingly, will public transportation systems receive priority or assistance with accessing critical supplies such as cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), and face coverings?
A: Requests for assistance with accessing critical supplies should be routed through emergency response efforts in local and county governments, which can seek state support if they cannot meet system needs. Any needs that a state cannot meet should then be coordinated with the FEMA regional office.
TA5: May a transit agency deny service to a transit rider who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19?
A: A transit agency should contact local and state public health officials, who generally coordinate information with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to determine under what circumstances the agency may deny service to any transit rider.
AD1: Is FTA providing relief from the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP) regulation (49 CFR Part 673) July 20, 2020 compliance deadline?
A: Yes. The FTA has issued a Notice of Enforcement Discretion stating that, until December 31, 2020, in light of the extraordinary operational challenges presented by the COVID-19 public health emergency, FTA will refrain from taking enforcement action pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 5329(g) and the FTA Master Agreement (26) (October 1, 2019) against any FTA recipient or subrecipient subject to the PTASP regulation that is unable to certify that it has established an Agency Safety Plan that complies with the regulation. This Notice will remain in effect until December 31, 2020. In effect, this Notice gives transit agencies affected by the emergency until December 31, 2020, to comply with and certify to the requirements in the PTASP regulation. Notwithstanding the Notice’s exercise of enforcement discretion, FTA expects affected recipients and subrecipients to continue to work toward meeting the July 20, 2020, effective date to the extent practical under the current circumstances caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency. During this period, the PTASP Technical Assistance Center will remain available to meet the PTASP technical assistance needs of states and transit agencies.
AD2: May recipients postpone submission of Federal Financial Reports and/or Milestone Progress Reports currently due by April 30, 2020?
A: Yes. Recipients may delay submission by up to 90 days. A recipient’s next report, therefore, would be for the quarter ending June 30, 2020, with the report due on July 30, 2020.
AD3: Does FTA plan to postpone any upcoming program oversight reviews or will they continue as scheduled?
A: FTA understands that the focus of our recipients is on addressing the critical challenges faced by their agencies and in their communities in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Accordingly, FTA has decided to postpone remaining fiscal year 2020 program oversight reviews (triennial, state management, etc.) until early in federal fiscal year 2021.
AD4: Can states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) hold virtual public hearings where the applicable public participation plan provides for “in person” participation?
A: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) are aware that some states and MPOs are looking to use virtual public involvement technologies and techniques for public participation activities related to metropolitan and statewide transportation planning under the applicable statutes (23 U.S.C. 134-135) as a way to satisfy the public meetings provisions. The agencies are currently evaluating the impacts of virtual public involvement instead of in-person participation where it is required under the public participation plan. As FHWA and FTA undertake the evaluation, states and MPOs may revise their public involvement plans to employ virtual public involvement techniques. In the meantime, both FHWA and FTA staff are available to answer any questions.
AD5: Can project sponsors hold virtual public hearings to satisfy public involvement requirements during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process?
A: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) are aware that scheduled or planned public hearings for projects currently in the NEPA process may be affected by facility closures or other restrictions. The agencies are currently reviewing whether the public hearing requirements under FHWA statute (23 USC 128) and the FHWA/FTA/FRA joint environmental regulations (23 CFR 771.111) can be met with a virtual public hearing and, if so, under what conditions. Please contact your applicable agency to answer any questions you may have.
The following were prepared by the CDC for posting by FTA:
CDC1: What is FTA’s position on the transit workforce having the necessary protections, including personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and required social distancing practices?
A: Under the CARES Act, $25 billion was allocated to transit agencies across the country with no local match required. These funds are available for transit agencies to provide PPE for transit workers. Consistent with the CARES Act, FTA expects that agencies use available funding to purchase PPE for the transit workforce consistent with CDC and OSHA guidance to the maximum extent possible. Current CDC guidance includes recommendations for cloth face coverings and social distancing. Transit systems should have appropriate PPE for frontline workers and procedures in place such as rear-door entry to ensure that social distancing is being observed by the system and transit riders to protect transit operators and the public. FTA will continue to monitor COVID-19 related guidance and will update this FAQ if CDC or OSHA guidance changes.
OSHA requirements that may apply to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19, include OSHA’s PPE standards (29 CFR 1910 subpart I) and the General Duty Clause, section 5(a)(1), of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970. See OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 and OSHA’s COVID-19 webpage.
CDC2: (CDC) How can transit agencies and operators best begin a constructive dialogue about COVID-19 with public health officials in their local community?
A: Transit agencies are encouraged to reach out to local public health officials to establish ongoing communications to facilitate access to relevant information before and during an outbreak.
CDC3: (CDC) What transit interior surfaces require the most attention and what cleaning solutions are the most effective against the virus? How frequently should cleaning occur?
A: High touch surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day.
CDC4: What actions can transit agencies take to increase COVID-19 preparedness for potential outbreaks in their service areas?
A: CDC has developed interim guidance for businesses that includes planning considerations and recommendations for developing an infectious disease outbreak response plan.
CDC5: What personal protective equipment should we provide to our employees?
A: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hosts a webpage summarizing OSHA standards and directives and other related information that may apply to worker exposure to COVID-19. In addition, monitor OSHA’s COVID-19 webpage for any potential updates or recommendations.