NJ TRANSIT deserves full share of $1.35 billion in emergency federal funding

New Jersey stands to lose out on $1.35 billion in desperately needed emergency federal funding for NJ TRANSIT and its customers because officials from New York contend the Empire State is entitled to a greater share of funds.

New York is challenging Federal Transit Administration (FTA) guidance and formulas that have previously been used to split funding for states in a region such as New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.

The split approach worked well in the Spring of 2020 when the federal government’s initial emergency legislation – known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) – allocated $1.4 billion in funding to NJ TRANSIT.

Congress has since passed two more crucial COVID-19 emergency funding measures to address the pandemic’s devastating effects on the economy, known as the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

All three measures provided vital funding for transit agencies nationwide, including NJ TRANSIT.

The $1.4 billion New Jersey previously received in emergency federal funding enabled NJ TRANSIT to continue operating full rail, bus, and light rail service through Fiscal Year 2021. First responders – including health care staff members, grocery store employees and other essential workers – relied on transit to keep our state functioning.

Now, 16 months later, unnecessary issues have arisen regarding CRRSAA and ARPA funding to NJ TRANSIT.

Although officials from New Jersey and Connecticut agree how those federal funds should be apportioned, New York is challenging the usual FTA formulas and guidance that previously worked so well.

Ronald Epstein, an executive deputy New York Department of Transportation Commissioner, claims Congress really intended to provide more money to the largest transit agencies. His opinion is contrary to the understanding of senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, among the most prominent members of the Senate who helped shepherd and pass the federal legislation.

The statutory language of CRRSAA and ARPA does not support New York’s position, and nothing in FTA guidance validates New York’s stance. In fact, the long history of how the three states have split federal funding confirms New Jersey and Connecticut’s approach.

In addition, New York’s contention is contrary to previous statements from its senior senator, Chuck Schumer, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Schumer stated his goal was to secure $4 billion in CRRSAA funds for the MTA, which is exactly what the MTA would receive under the traditional “split” of money among the three states.

The MTA, for its part, published budget documents earlier this year stating it expected to receive $4 billion in CRRSAA aid. Neither Schumer, nor the MTA said anything earlier this year about receiving a $673 million windfall from CRRSAA at New Jersey’s expense.

If the calculation New York proposes is adopted, New Jersey and NJ TRANSIT will lose out on $1.35 billion in federal aid. Connecticut’s hit would be smaller, but officials from the state are standing strong with New Jersey.

The plain fact is NJ TRANSIT is America’s largest statewide transit agency and third largest transit agency overall, reflecting New Jersey’s position between America’s biggest city (New York) and fifth biggest city (Philadelphia).

COVID-19 slammed NJ TRANSIT’S revenues and finances just as hard as it did the MTA’s or those of any other agency.

New Jersey, NJ TRANSIT and its customers deserve their full and fair share of CRRSAA and ARPA emergency aid. The funds are needed to continue full service for all New Jerseyans who depend on transit until ridership and revenues recover from the effects of the pandemic.

New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have a long history of working together for the common good.

New York should follow FTA guidance on allocated CRRSAA and ARPA emergency funding.

Simply stated, it’s the right thing to do.

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