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President Trump’s ‘Anarchist’ Declaration Could Cost Transit Funds to New York, Others

7:53 PM EDT on October 14, 2020

President Trump’s retaliation against New York City, Portland, and Seattle could threaten those city’s public transportation and Covid-19 recovery.

Trump’s "anarchist jurisdiction" = more viral spread.

New York City and two other progressive cities could lose out on a multi-million-dollar research grant to ease recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and stop the spread of the deadly disease on public transportation — all because President Trump declared the cities overrun with anarchy.

Transit advocates charge that the president is "playing politics" with people's lives.

[The Trump administration's] willingness to expose innocent transit riders and essential transit workers to greater risk of COVID just because of Donald Trump’s unrelated personal vendetta against certain local elected officials is both reckless and un-American," said David Bragdon of TransitCenter. "No American, in any city or state, should be sacrificed to a pandemic because of a President’s petty whims."

Last month, the Trump Administration designated New York City, along with Seattle and Portland, “anarchist jurisdictions” because — he claims — their leaders failed to stop the anti-police protests that ignited after Minneapolis cops killed George Floyd in May.

The president threatened to cut funding to those cities — and, apparently, his agencies have gotten the memo.

On Oct. 8, the Federal Transit Administration posted a notice that consideration for a $10-million grant to fund programs to help curb the spread of coronavirus on buses and trains should exclude the trio of cities "in accordance with the president’s Sept. 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."

It's the first tangible result of Trump’s lashing out against the three liberal cities since designating them as "anarchist jurisdictions."

Eligible projects for the grant include solutions to help reduce the spread of the disease, like improving infrastructure cleaning and disinfection; exposure mitigation measures; new multi-modal payment systems for contactless payments; and measures that strengthen public confidence in transit, according to the notice from the FTA, a department within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The three cities together serve nearly half of the nation's transit ridership through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York, TriMet in Portland, and King County Metro and Sound Transit in Seattle, and restricting potentially life-saving projects is not only petty and dangerous, but undemocratic, advocates say.

“Cities and transit agencies serve the public regardless of political affiliation or party. Withholding funds from jurisdictions in an attempt for political gain puts cities, transit agencies and our democracy at risk,” said Corinne Kisner, executive director of NACTO, the national umbrella group for city Department of Transportation leaders. “This decision endangers millions of transit riders and operators across our nation, and blocks those most equipped from studying new ways to make transit even safer.”

A grant to do more to strengthen the public’s confidence in transit, and effectively slow the spread, would go a long way in New York City, where despite studies assuring straphangers that enclosed subways are safe, ridership is still only about 30 percent of normal.

Still, a $10-million grant would be a drop in the bucket compared to the MTA’s mounting $3.9-billion debt,  for which agency honchos say they desperately need federal assistance.

Photo montage: Riders Alliance
Photo montage: Riders Alliance
Photo montage: Riders Alliance

A spokesman for the MTA declined to comment if the agency plans to apply for the grant, and said it is "reviewing the administration’s announcement."

The Biden campaign declined to comment.

After initial publication of this story, a spokesperson for FTA said that the MTA has already received more than $4 billion in COVID relief funds provided, and sent over the following statement:

"The Department awarded $25 billion in COVID-19 relief funding in a record 6 days (ahead of legislative deadline) to transit agencies and distributed over 100 million face coverings for transportation workers and riders throughout the country. The COVID-19 Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) was issued quickly so that these funds can be distributed as soon as possible to transit agencies during this public health emergency. Presidential directives are not discretionary, consistent with all applicable statutory requirements.”

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