Frequently Asked Questions from FTA Grantees Regarding Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

https://www.transit.dot.gov/frequently-asked-questions-fta-grantees-regarding-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19

Frequently Asked Questions from FTA Grantees Regarding Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

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 4/7/2020)

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act FAQs

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) FAQs

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act graphic

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Program Eligibility:

Q: Are all expenses normally eligible under the Urbanized Area Formula Program (49 USC 5307) and the Formula Grants for Rural Area Program (49 USC 5311) eligible under the CARES Act?

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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Program Requirements:

Q: 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:

Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP): CARES Act funds used to pay for operating expenses do not need to be included in the TIP/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).

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.

Q:  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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

FTA Funding & Emergency Relief

Q: 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 80-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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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 80-percent federal match. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and other measures are eligible as either a maintenance or operating expense, whichever is appropriate.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.  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.

Q: What is the start date for Section 5311 subrecipients to incur expenses at the 80/20 match rate?

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.  The flexibility will remain in place for eligible expenses incurred for the duration of the relevant state of emergency.  

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.  

Q: 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.

Q: 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:

  • Removal of health and safety hazards, such as cleaning of vehicles and facilities
  • Costs associated with shutting down or restarting service
  • Materials such as hand sanitizer, gloves, soap, and cleaners
  • Emergency protective gear relevant to the emergency
  • Temporary service, that is not part of regular service, provided in response to the emergency

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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Civil Rights

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Transit Agency Responses

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: What are other transit agencies doing in response to COVID-19?

A: Many transit agencies are responding with safety alerts and documents, including:

  • The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority deployed health guidance in English, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, and Korean across the system on 3,600 subway screens, 2,000 bus screens, and at 84 subway station street entrances, and issued a press release.
  • The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority’s Police Department issued an Emergency Preparedness Bulletin to employees.
  • The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority issued an interoffice memo to its staff.
  • Bay Area Rapid Transit is taking Emergency Preparedness actions, updated their website with messaging to the public, and is utilizing a Public Health Recommendations poster.
  • King County Metro is performing daily cleaning of buses and water taxis, and has created an informational page on their website and sent an email to stakeholders.
  • Sound Transit issued a blog post and Community Transit posted information on their website.

CDC Recommendations for Workplace Preparedness & Protection

The following were prepared by the CDC for posting by FTA:

Q: (CDC) Are masks or other protective gear recommended for transit workers?

A: Transit agencies and workers should follow the CDC’s recommendations for personal protective equipment (PPE). See more CDC FAQs on how to protect yourself.

Additionally, transit workers are encouraged to perform regular hand hygiene, including using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. If hands are visibly soiled, wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Transit workers should avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands and should avoid close contact with people who are sick.

There is no specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for PPE explicitly for COVID-19. However, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19, including OSHA's PPE standards and General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970. See OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplace for COVID-19.

Q: (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.

Q: (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.

  • High touch surfaces include kiosks, turnstiles, benches, railings, handrails, garbage cans, door handles, payphones, restroom surfaces (faucets, toilets, counters), poles, handrails, seats, benches, grab bars, and exit buttons.
  • If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. 
  • Products registered with EPA for use against novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (the cause of COVID-19) are expected to be effective against COVID-19 based on data for harder to kill viruses. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, etc.).  See this list of products registered with EPA for use against novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
  • For soft or porous surfaces such as carpeted floor, rugs, and drapes, remove visible contamination if present and clean with appropriate cleaners indicated for use on these surfaces. 
  • Staff should wear PPE in accordance with the disinfectant manufacturer’s instructions. After removing PPE, staff should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

These FAQs do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies. Grantees and subgrantees should refer to FTA’s statutes and regulations for applicable requirements.

Updated: Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The world is experiencing an expanding outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus (COVID-19). FTA encourages transit agencies to be informed and prepared.

CARES Act graphic

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

On Friday, March 27, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law. FTA is allocating $25 billion to recipients of urbanized area and rural area formula funds. Learn more

FTA Resources

Press Releases, Blogs & Announcements

Other Federal Resources

For more information and to ask questions, contact FTAResponse@dot.gov.

Updated: Monday, April 6, 2020

FOOT NOTES

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