WASHINGTON – The Department of Transportation put 3,700 employees on leave and suspended some grant programs on Friday after Congress failed to extend spending from the Highway Trust Fund amid an ongoing dispute over infrastructure and social spending.
The fund, which aims to ensure long-term stability for road and transportation projects, expired Thursday night as Democrats argued over whether a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill should be tabled before a deal on billions of dollars more in social spending should be completed.
The state transport authorities, which are reimbursed from the fund, are expected to be able to pay their bills for a few more weeks. The Ministry of Transport said in a statement that existing grants will continue to be paid.
“The government continues to work closely with Congress to quickly re-approve land transport programs and bring back the approximately 3,700 hard-working workers currently on temporary leave,” the statement said.
“We are also taking every step to mitigate the effects of this temporary licensing loss.”
While the immediate impact could be limited, the failure is “unacceptable,” said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
“Yesterday’s inaction on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is not only disappointing – it is disabling our road, transit and motorway safety programs and halting work on vital transport infrastructure across the country that affects our economy and quality of life People harm our communities, “Tymon said in a statement. “We are dealing with very real effects.”
The Governors Highway Safety Association said the mini-shutdown would affect safety programs at a time when road deaths and dangerous driving occur. In a tweet it called the forfeit “a direct effect of Congress missing the deadline to extend the FAST Act and keep the Highway Trust Fund running.”
Congress could decide to extend the trust fund at short notice, an option major lawmakers prepared for this week.
The Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works worked with the House Transportation Committee to develop two backup options to keep the Federal Highway Trust Fund running: the first option would simply extend the trust fund for a month. A second would keep it going through December, but with the fund running out of money, that option would also include a $ 5 billion bailout.
A bill would have to start in the House of Representatives as it deals with financial matters and could take several days to go through the Senate.
Most of the employees on leave are employed by the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The trust fund covers transit projects and road safety works in addition to construction, and grants in these programs are also affected by the closure.
The trust fund last expired in 2010, but employees were quickly called back to work.
The gas tax, which helps to fill the fund, has not yet expired.
(Ministry of Transport)