September 30, 2021

Chair DeFazio Statement from Hearing to Assess the Impact of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 Relief and Response Efforts

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during today’s hearing titled, “Assessing the Federal Government’s COVID-19 Relief and Response Efforts and its Impact – Part II.” Video of DeFazio’s opening statement is here. More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

In July, we held the first part of this hearing examining oversight of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we will hear about the impact that the government’s COVID-19 relief funding and response efforts have had on the transportation sector and its workers, on the ability of states and localities to support their communities with COVID-19 testing and vaccination, and on our nation’s economy. We will also hear from our witnesses about how these efforts can be improved to be even more effective going forward.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating public health consequences for our nation and the world. In the United States, it has infected more than 42 million Americans and resulted in over 675,000 deaths. The federal government was called upon to maintain a national-scale response to this crisis for an unprecedented period of time.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has led the way in protecting the health and well-being of our communities. They have helped states and local governments establish community vaccination centers, provided funding for COVID-19 testing, and delivered tens of millions of N-95 masks, surgical gowns, and other personal protective equipment. States and local governments are now receiving reimbursement from FEMA for 100% of their costs for the safe opening and operation of schools, hospitals, shelters, and transit systems. In addition, to prevent the further spread of the virus and protect the health of transportation workers and passengers, President Biden ordered masks to be worn on transportation modes, including buses, airplanes, ferries, and other forms of transportation.

The pandemic wreaked havoc not only on the health of our citizens, but also on the health of our economy, and transportation was one of the hardest-hit sectors. Commercial airline demand fell drastically, affecting revenues for airlines, airports, and associated businesses. Today, passenger levels in the U.S. are still about 25% lower than before the pandemic.

Transit ridership on buses, subways, and commuter vanpools across the country has been decimated. Here in Washington, D.C., ridership on metro rail decreased nearly 90% in the spring of 2020. These declines led to devastating economic consequences for local, regional, and state governments, transit agencies, airlines, and airports, among many others.

Companies operating commuter shuttle buses and private bus charters were not spared. Some were forced to suspend service due to lack of passengers, and some went out of business entirely. Our transportation networks will take a long time to recover financially, and they may be forever altered by changing workplace practices.

Congress took unprecedented actions to help cushion the economic blow to these transportations sectors. The programs Congress created and the funding it authorized helped transit and bus operators, airlines, airports, and other companies provide paychecks to their employees and essential transportation services to communities across the country. Federal relief funds administered by the Federal Transit Administration allowed transit agencies to keep critical service running, avoid layoffs, and provide workers and riders with COVID-19 protections.

In the aviation sector, the Payroll Support Program provided financial assistance to airlines, manufacturers, and other related businesses for employee wages, salaries, and benefits. Airports, which also suffered revenue losses, received additional grant assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration for costs such as salaries and debt service.

Congress also created the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services, or “CERTS,” program so that motorcoach, school bus, and passenger vessel companies affected by the pandemic can maintain their payroll and hire back employees who were laid off.

These and other pandemic relief programs have helped thousands upon thousands of workers and their families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so far this year, job growth has averaged nearly 600,000 new jobs added each month. The economy has also been growing, due in part to the boost from pandemic relief spending, with gross domestic product expected to show a substantial increase this year. Governors, mayors and local officials, labor organizations, and business associations have all applauded the support Congress provided through legislation that thwarted the loss of American jobs, bolstered the economic security of U.S. small businesses, and helped to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Today we will hear from our witnesses about how the federal government’s pandemic assistance has helped transportation workers, emergency managers, and the nation’s economy. But I also hope to hear their views on how the federal government can do a better job as it continues to help our country recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it can be better prepared to respond to future disasters of this nature.

Thank you to all of our witnesses for being here today. I look forward to your testimony. With that, I yield to Ranking Member Graves for his opening statement.