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Letter comes as administration has threatened to withhold federal funding to punish cities where residents have protested for racial justice 

Senators: “We are disturbed by the DOT’s decision to potentially disqualify major American cities” from federal funding

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, joined Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) and New York Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in sending a letter urging the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to ensure that Seattle, Portland, and New York City will not be excluded from federal funding for transportation projects. The letter comes in response to moves from the Trump administration to withhold federal funding from cities based on an arbitrary designation of “anarchist jurisdictions” in response to racial justice protests this summer. A September 2, 2020, memorandum from President Trump labeled Seattle, Portland, New York City, and Washington, D.C. as “anarchist jurisdictions” and directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to review hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to these cities.  

An October 8th Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) from DOT’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for the Public Transportation COVID–19 Research Demonstration Grant Program stated that the agency “will review and consider applications for funding pursuant to this notice in accordance with the President’s September 2, 2020 memorandum.” 

“Tying federal funds for local transit agencies to an arbitrary definition of ‘anarchist jurisdictions’ is of questionable legality and an appalling abuse of power, particularly in the midst of a deadly pandemic and economic recession,” the senators wrote in their letter to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao. “The COVID-19 pandemic has hit transit agencies particularly hard, and many face dire financial circumstances. We are disturbed by the DOT’s decision to potentially disqualify major American cities, including the home of the nation’s largest transit agency, from federal funding during this unprecedented time.”

To ensure that critical funding for critical transportation programs are delivered, the senators  requested that DOT explain whether the president’s September 2, 2020, memorandum will influence any DOT decisions regarding the granting or withholding of Federal Transit Administration funds, and whether the DOT plans to implement the president’s memorandum in any form. The senators also requested any internal memoranda, e-mails, directives, or communications explaining how DOT offices should implement the President’s September 2, 2020, memorandum and subsequent OMB guidance, as well as a list of all DOT funding opportunities that will be affected by this policy. This action follows Senators Murray and Cantwell’s previous condemnations of the administration’s dubious and potentially illegal scheme to withhold federal funding from Seattle following the summer’s racial justice protests, including their recent letters to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency demanding additional details regarding how the agencies plan to implement the White House’s directive to withhold federal funding from Seattle and other cities designated as “anarchist jurisdictions.”

The full text of the letter is available below.

 

November 2, 2020

Madame Secretary:

On October 8, 2020, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) alerting local governments and transit agencies of the availability of the Public Transportation COVID–19 Research Demonstration Grant Program. We write in strong opposition to the inclusion in the NOFO of language stating that “the Department will review and consider applications for funding pursuant to this notice in accordance with the President’s September 2, 2020 memorandum, entitled Memorandum on Reviewing Funding to State and Local Government Recipients of Federal Funds that Are Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction in American Cities.”

President Trump announced this policy on September 2, 2020 “to ensure that Federal funds are neither unduly wasted nor spent in a manner that directly violates our Government’s promise to protect life, liberty, and property.” The policy further stated that “it is imperative that the Federal Government review the use of Federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America’s cities.” In a September 21, 2020 memorandum, the White House directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the United States Department of Justice to review federal funding to state and local governments. This memorandum specifically targets Portland, OR; New York City, NY; and Seattle, WA. The October 8 NOFO notes that FTA “will review and consider applications for funding pursuant” to the White House memorandum.

Tying federal funds for local transit agencies to an arbitrary definition of “anarchist jurisdictions” is of questionable legality and an appalling abuse of power, particularly in the midst of a deadly pandemic and economic recession. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit transit agencies particularly hard, and many face dire financial circumstances. We are disturbed by the DOT’s decision to potentially disqualify major American cities, including the home of the nation’s largest transit agency, from federal funding during this unprecedented time.

We fear that this NOFO is simply the first public announcement of DOT’s implementation of President Trump’s politically-motivated memorandum. As such, we respectfully request the following information from your agency:

  1. Will the President’s September 2, 2020 memorandum influence any DOT decisions regarding the granting or withholding of FTA funds to the above-named cities?
  1. How does DOT plan to implement the President’s memorandum?

Additionally, we respectfully request any internal memoranda, e-mails, directives, or communications explaining how DOT offices should implement the President’s September 2, 2020 memorandum and subsequent OMB guidance, as well as a list of all DOT funding opportunities that will be affected by this policy.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter. We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,