Frequently Asked Questions
Grant Requirements and Eligibility
The SSO apportionment notice is an official announcement from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) regarding the apportionment of FY 2013 and FY 2014 SSO Formula Grant Program funds. This notice responds to public comments on the May 13, 2013 SSO Illustrative Apportionment, describes the final formula used to apportion funds, and identifies grant requirements and next steps to apply for this grant program.
SSO Formula Grant Program funds must be used to develop or carry out SSO programs in accordance with the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).
States with a rail fixed guideway public transportation system (rail transit system) that is not regulated by the FRA, or any such system in the engineering or construction phase of development, are eligible to receive funding.
No. For FY 2013 and FY 2014 SSO grant funds, a State does not need to be certified to receive the apportioned funding. However, if a State is not certified, the State must submit a CWP and have it approved by FTA before applying for and receiving grant funds. FTA developed a recommended CWP template to support this process.
For fiscal year (FY) 2013, more than $21 million is available for States to develop or carry out their SSO Programs consistent with MAP-21 requirements. For fiscal year (FY) 2014, $22,293,250 is available for States to develop or carry out their SSO Programs consistent with MAP-21 requirements. Please see Table 13 on the list of Current Apportionments on the FTA Current Apportionments for the amount apportioned to each State.
Application Process and Funding Availability
Any State that was not certified in October 2013 must submit a Certification Work Plan (CWP) to FTA. FTA must approve that CWP prior to the State submitting a grant application.
A CWP outlines a transition plan for a State to achieve certification. The plan should identify gaps or deficiencies in a State’s authority to develop and carry out its SSO program and tactical steps the State plans to take to meet the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) statutory requirements under 49 U.S.C. § 5329(e) under a State-specified timeline. Approved CWPs are intended to provide more certainty that the transition plan will help reach certification. This is a State’s opportunity to receive reasonable assurance that its anticipated SSO program will be MAP-21 compliant and use the available funding for eligible activities that meaningfully and effectively enhance its SSO program. Additional information on the CWP is provided below.
Once the CWP is completed and approved by FTA, the SSO agency must file an electronic grant application with its FTA Regional Office using FTA's Transportation Electronic Award Management (TEAM) system. As part of this process, the State must submit documentation, among other things, evidencing its formal designation of the intended recipient of the FTA SSO grant program funds and the source of its 20 percent local match. The State-designated entity, which may or may not be the SSO agency, must also have the required documents, including the signed Certifications and Assurances on file with the Regional Office. Contact your Regional Office for more information.
States are reminded that grant applications must be in “submitted” status in TEAM by June 30, 2014 to allow time to make awards by FY 2014. For more information, please see the March 10, 2014 Dear Colleague Letter.
My State DOT is an existing FTA grantee. Do I need a new letter from my Governor designating my agency as the SSO agency, or can I submit a letter that was signed a few years ago that clearly designates my agency as the SSO agency? ##
Please coordinate with your Regional Office regarding the exact circumstances of your State. In most cases the Regional Office will be expecting a designation letter from the Governor to accompany the grant application.
Each State should work with its Regional Office on the exact terms of the grant, and how it will be administered and amended.
SSO Formula Grant Program funds are available for the year of apportionment plus two additional years.
Any FY 2013 funds that remain unobligated at the close of business on September 30, 2015 will revert to FTA for reapportionment under the SSO Formula Grant Program. Any FY 2014 funds that remain unobligated at the close of business on September 30, 2016 will revert to FTA for reapportionment under the SSO Formula Grant Program.
A State can receive funds once the grant is awarded. States will work with the FTA regional offices to develop their grant applications. Please refer to FTA’s cash management procedures in the most recent version of FTA Circular 5010.1 or consult your FTA regional office for additional information.
States will submit a schedule and budget as part of the grant application. In order for the grant to remain active, States must demonstrate adequate progress toward their objectives, based on the schedule and budget submitted.
Once the SSO Formula Grant is active, States must submit several types of reports, including a Federal Financial Report and Milestone Progress Report. These reports are required quarterly and should demonstrate progress toward milestones. Please see the most recent version of FTA Circular 5010.1 or contact your regional office for details.
States should note that all project expenditures, whether paid for with Federal award money or local matching funds, must comply with Federal requirements, including Buy America, civil rights, economic development, etc.
How does the 20% match work? Is it 20% of the amount of grant funding FTA apportioned, or 20% of the total combined funding level?
It is 20% of the total combined funding level. For example, if the FTA grant award is $250,000, than that amount is 80% of the total project cost.
The total project cost is then calculated as $250,000 divided by .8 (or 250,000/.8), which equals $312,500.
The amount of the local match is 20% of the total project cost, or $62,500, which is calculated as $312,500 multiplied by .2 (312,500 x .2).
State funds or in-kind contributions from the State can count toward the State’s local match. At the time of application, you must certify that your State has funds or approved in-kind resources to serve as the local match. See FTA’s Annual Certifications and Assurances and the FTA Master Agreement that all applicants for grant funds must submit for details.
For States that oversee multi-State rail transit systems, funds spent by partner States may be used as part of the local share as long as those funds meet all requirements of the grant program. As part of the grant application and award process, these States will need to show evidence of agreement regarding how the local share will be met amongst the States.
Additionally, MAP-21 requires SSO Programs to be financially independent from the rail transit systems they oversee and restricts the type of funding that can be used as the State’s local match. As such, States that currently rely upon fees, assessments, or funding from rail transit systems in their jurisdictions will be unable to use those funds for any SSO Formula Grant Program activities. In addition, the State may not use other Federal funds as all or a part of its local match. FTA will work with each State on an individual basis to identify permissible local share sources.
States may apply for an amount that is less than what is available under the SSO Formula Grant Program. States may ask FTA to later amend the grant to add all or a portion of the remaining available funds until the end of the period of availability, which is one year from the end of the fiscal year that the grant funds are apportioned.
My State is working to obtain an independent 20% match. Can my State receive funding from the rail transit agency and participate in this grant program?
No. We appreciate that several States are still working to identify the source of their local matching fundings; however, a State cannot come in to receive a grant under FTA's MAP-21 SSO program while, at the same time, receiving funding from the rail transit agency. No State or any other agency should deprive a SSOA of the funds it needs to ensure the safety of public transportation. FTA therefore expects a clear transition plan for the SSOA to attain financial independence.
Can my State wait to file a grant application until the new fiscal year begins, when the independent local match is available?
Yes, based on the period of availability, FY 13 grant funds can be obligated through September 30, 2015 and FY 14 grant funds through September 30, 2016. FTA, however, encourages you to submit as soon as you possibly can, to ensure that your State's program, and the rail transit agency's safety oversight, receives the benefits of Federal funding.
States that must continue to meet 49 CFR Part 659 requirements may use existing resources to do so. However, each State is responsible for identifying an independent local match in order to receive funding under FTA’s SSO Formula Grant Program, which cannot include funding received from the RTA. FTA will not award a grant until this match is identified and the SSO agency is no longer dependent upon funds received from the RTA.
FTA expects that RTAs will honor their funding obligations to the States that rely upon them until the State is certified or has an approved CWP that permits the State to apply for SSO Formula Grant Program funding.
However, States that currently rely on funding from the RTA must identify an independent funding match for the SSO Formula Grant Program and close-out their financial relationship with the RTA prior to grant award. FTA recommends that States dependent upon funding from the RTA make final arrangements regarding the termination of this funding so that it ends no later than the date of the State's grant application to FTA's Regional Office. States will not be eligible for pre-award authority until they terminate funding from the RTA.
Is my State required to reimburse the RTA for any financial support it provided the State's SSO program in FY 2013 and FY 2014?
No. In fact, SSO Formula Grant Program funds cannot be used to cover expenses incurred by the SSO agency prior to the effective date of their apportionment, which, in this case, is March 10, 2014.
Also, SSO Formula Grant Program funds must be used to develop and carry out a MAP-21 compliant program, not to implement minimum 49 CFR Part 659 requirements.
Further, due to the requirement for legal and financial independence, among other things, specified in 49 U.S.C. 5329(e)(3) and (4), FTA's SSO grant funds cannot be used for the direct benefit of a RTA, and an SSO agency cannot participate in FTA's SSO Formula Grant Program while receiving money from a RTA in its jurisdiction.
Certification Work Plans
The grant application is currently available electronically through FTA’s TEAM system. States must coordinate with their Regional Office representative to register in TEAM. States must have their CWPs approved by FTA before they can complete the grant application in TEAM. The CWP template, a sample completed CWP, and technical assistance documents are available on the SSO program page.
FTA appreciates that CWP approval is on the critical path to receiving grant funding. We will work with each State to turn around their submittals as quickly as possible. To expedite this process, it is important that States carefully review the CWP template to ensure that all relevant information is provided. Time spent following up with a State for additional information will extend the review and approval time for that State.
No. A State may be reimbursed for eligible activities from March 10, 2014, if they are certified. If the State is not yet certified, it may be reimbursed for eligible activities carried out from the date that their CWP is approved.
At this time, FTA has not received or approved a CWP.
States were required to submit information for FTA’s certification process completed in October 2013. If a State was not certified based upon the information submitted, the CWP is the next step States must take to identify the necessary action(s) to fill these gaps and build a MAP-21-compliant SSO program. The recommendations provided in the October 2013 gap assessment should be incorporated into the CWP.
Can you explain the “timeline” section of the CWP? Are these suggested timelines or do they depict the timeframe that the FTA anticipates those given sections will take to complete?
The timelines provided in the sample CWP are examples. Each State should provide its own timeline to indicate when the State and FTA can expect the task identified in the CWP to be completed. In providing a timeline, the State should consider its operating environment, resources, and other circumstances that may affect the State’s timeline. FTA will review the timelines for reasonableness and work with States to determine an appropriate timeline if necessary.
SSO Formula Grant Program funds may be used to develop or carry out SSO programs under MAP-21. Funds may be used for operational and administrative expenses, including training, travel and equipment. States must follow the guidance provided in the Federal Register notice, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), CWP Template, and other guidance on the SSO Program webpage. While the responses below are intended to clarify common questions about eligible activities, FTA will review each proposed grant activity during the grant application process and will make specific eligibility determinations at that time.
States must comply with 49 C.F.R. Part 18, Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Cooperative Agreements to State and Local Governments, and 2 C.F.R. Part 220. Specific questions should be directed to the appropriate regional office.
No. These funds may only be used to support MAP-21 compliant State Safety Oversight Program activities.
The focus of this grant program is to strengthen each SSO program so it can achieve the robust requirements set forth in MAP-21. Many of the activities performed today are likely part of the enhanced SSO program required under MAP-21; however, the grant application needs to demonstrate how the Federal dollars will enhance existing activities, especially those activities that do not currently meet 49 U.S.C. 5329(e), and eliminate activities that may weaken the program or are expressly prohibited by MAP-21.
For example, if a State’s CWP identifies a gap or deficiency in the statutory requirement that the State has investigative and enforcement authority, the State should identify program activities to be taken to be meet this MAP-21 requirement. In such a case, the State may propose obtaining the necessary investigative and enforcement authority, e.g., enabling legislation, and what that authority may entail, including taking a more active role in leading independent accident investigations. The State should identify these existing or planned activities to work toward the goal set forth in the CWP. FTA will fund these enhanced activities, such as active, independent accident investigations, and the developmental activities required to achieve that level of investigative and enforcement authority. FTA will not fund activities that do not (or will not) meet the statutory requirements of MAP-21.
Other examples include, but are not limited to the activities that:
- Mature their three-year reviews to contain additional audits and inspections, tests, measurements and field observations, and perhaps be directed by a sampling plan.
- Implement corrective action plan tracking to include additional verification and follow-up activities.
- Provide additional training and even peer exchanges.
- Support the SSO program personnel in carrying out these enhanced mandates, through equipment and even vehicles purchases.
To ensure grant coverage for all activities performed in the SSO program, FTA recommends that the SSO agency describes its activities in terms of how they support the SSO program in order to meet the explicit mandates specified in 49 U.S.C. 5329(e). So long as an SSO agency is actively working toward MAP-21 implementation and making enhancements to its existing SSO program, FTA intends that those expenses will be covered through the grant program.
Can States use SSO Formula Grant Program funds to oversee Bus Rapid Transit systems and other transit modes?
No. Aerial tramways, trackless trolleys, trolleybuses, and bus rapid transit are excluded.
Can States use SSO Formula Grant Program funds for rail transit systems that are not Federally funded?
Yes. A rail transit system does not need to receive Federal funds to qualify for this program. Eligible rail transit systems must report to the NTD in order to be included in the apportionment and grant funding may only be used for those systems that report to the NTD or intend to report to the NTD. The applicant or the rail transit system that is currently not reporting to the NTD, e.g., those rail transit systems in the engineering or construction phase of development, should submit a letter of intent that the rail transit system at issue will report to NTD and comply with all applicable Federal requirements.
Yes. States may use SSO Formula Grant Program funds to pay reasonable compensation to employees who are working on the SSO program. All labor must be identified in a staffing plan shared with FTA. You may pay the following types of employees, as identified in the staffing plan:
- Full or partial wages for all SSO personnel.
- Overtime wages for SSO employees who perform activities such as accident investigation or corrective plan verification.
- Partial wages for State employees who support the SSO program.
Again, refer to 2 C.F.R. Part 220 for specific information, and speak to your Regional Office for additional assistance.
Yes. The services paid for must be to develop or carry out SSO programs under MAP-21.
Yes. Expenditures for equipment that is directly related to the SSO program are allowable. Such equipment may include, for example, two-way radios, cellular phones, digital cameras, accident investigation kits, electronic tablets, personal protective equipment, as well as office equipment, including computers, servers, printers, and other durable goods or equipment. Items with a unit cost of $5000 or more must have prior FTA approval. If equipment is shared with non-SSO functions, please follow 2 C.F.R. Part 220 for guidance on how to calculate the appropriate reimbursement amount for the equipment’s use in support of SSO activities.
Yes. Vehicles purchases and vehicle operating costs to develop or carry out the SSO program are eligible, but may require prior FTA approval.
Construction or building improvements to develop or carry out the SSO program may be allowed. As with all proposed activities, grant applications will need to fully address how the activity supports the SSO program.
Can States use SSO Formula Grant Program funds to develop a web-based information management system?
Yes. Web-based information management systems used to develop or carry out the SSO program are allowable expenses.
All training supported by the FTA grant must be related to developing or carrying out a State’s SSO program under MAP-21, and each State should clearly demonstrate how each training course proposed in its grant does this. FTA will approve the training activities through the grant application process.
FTA encourages each SSO Agency (SSOA) to develop and implement a training plan that identifies skill gaps and appropriate training to fill those gaps. In particular, FTA encourages States to focus training activities on Safety Management System (SMS) training, which will be offered by FTA, and technical training related to the operating conditions of the rail transit systems the State oversees.
Eligible training may be offered by the US Department of Transportation’s Transportation Safety Institute, the National Transit Institute, post-secondary institutions, non-profit organizations, industry organizations, or other third-party providers. The training program does not have a post-secondary degree-seeking purpose, and as noted above, all training funded through this grant must be related to developing or carrying out a State’s SSO program under MAP-21. Thus, FTA does not anticipate that such degrees will be a typical result of training funded by the grant.
FTA is developing an interim safety certification training program, as required under 49 U.S.C. 5329(c), that may provide further guidance on eligible training activities. Once established, this interim program will become the basis for determining eligible training activities in future funding years. FTA expects to publish a proposed interim program for comment in Spring 2014.
Yes. States may use such grant funds for in-State or out-of-State travel or training under this program.
Can States use SSO Formula Grant Program funds to attend training at a rail transit system it oversees?
Yes. FTA encourages SSOA personnel to take training at the rail transit systems they oversee in order to improve their knowledge of specific practices and technical systems. SSO grant funds cannot be used to benefit the rail transit agency directly. You cannot provide training or anything else exclusively for the benefit of rail transit agency personnel.
Other eligible activities may include office supplies; personal protective equipment; technical engineering and inspection tools; uniforms; vehicle operational expenses; furniture; course registration and fees; conferences, workshops, and seminars; and travel, per diem, mileage, and lodging. Please see 2 C.F.R. Part 220 and consult with your FTA regional office.