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New York's transit authority says it's embarking on a first-in-the-nation testing program to guard against a second wave of the new coronavirus among transit workers. MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said the goal will be to test 15% of frontline workers weekly. (Oct. 27) AP Domestic

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Senators in New Jersey and Connecticut are calling on New York to follow traditional guidance from the Federal Transit Administration to split $14.2 billion in relief funds that the three states have been fighting over for six months

New York devised its own method to split the relief funds that would take away hundreds of millions from New Jersey and Connecticut. Its officials argued in a letter to the two states that New York's method for divvying up the funds "carries forward the congressional intent to provide additional funding to public transportation agencies with the greatest need.”

But U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, and Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, are pushing back.

The senators say their intent was for the states to distribute the money, which was awarded in the last two rounds of stimulus packages known as Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), using FTA guidance. That guidance was used to split the first round of coronavirus stimulus money, known as the CARES Act, and is used for other grants that are handed out annually based on a region’s population, route mileage and other factors.

"I don’t see why resources from CRRSSA or ARPA should be allocated any differently than CARES Act dollars, which the guidance issued by FTA reflects," a spokesman for Booker wrote in an email. "NJ Transit made hard decisions on how to cut back on costs and service during the pandemic, and they deserve their fair share of the funding.”

Most of the money would go to NJ Transit, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Connecticut Department of Transportation. The FTA provides guidance on how to divide up the dollars, and it is typically used by the states to negotiate and settle on the exact amounts.

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A spokesman for Menendez said that “nowhere in the language or the congressional intent of the federal COVID relief bills did Congress mandate changes to the way transit agencies split federal formula dollars amongst themselves."

Blumenthal made a similar comment to The Register Citizen. “The entire metropolitan area has desperate needs for this funding and traditionally we worked together, that’s why we follow the formula. Collaboration rather than competition should be the watchword,” he said.

Meanwhile, the negotiations over the money — which have gone on for more than six months — have risen from the agencies’ CFO level to the state transportation commissioners to the governors’ offices.

Michael Zhadanovsky, a spokesman for Gov. Phil Murphy, said the splits "must reflect the FTA formula, as Congress intended."

He continued: "We are in active discussions with our colleagues across the river on fair allocations of federal transit funding. We continue to advocate for the needs of New Jersey commuters and work to ensure that NJ Transit receives every dollar and cent of funding that it is entitled to so that it can recover from the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Meanwhile, representatives from New York have been silent.

Emails to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office and the office of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer were not returned.

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Ronald Epstein, assistant commissioner of policy and planning for the New York Department of Transportation, who wrote the letter defending New York’s position, was asked about the issue Wednesday at a press conference.

“Yes, we do have disagreements,” Epstein said. “Every family has disagreements.”

Most of the press conference was spent talking about the collaboration, partnership and cooperation it will take to execute a $117 billion plan to revitalize the Northeast Corridor, a railroad that spans from Boston to Washington, D.C. It is shared by multiple agencies, including NJ Transit, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the same ones at the center of the FTA funding stalemate. 

"It is very important to us, especially in this region, where we have so much utilization, that we work together," Epstein said.

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