The latest bipartisan Covid-19 relief proposal would provide airlines with an additional $25 billion in payroll support. The $908 billion proposal would also make small businesses in hard-hit industries such as travel eligible for a second round of Payroll Protection Program (PPP) support and would expand eligibility for the PPP program to include tourism offices.
This proposal is the most recent effort by the 13-member Bipartisan, Bicameral Group of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House to end months of partisan bickering over additional Covid-19 relief as the virus continues its winter surge and comes ahead of the late-December expiration of federal Cares Act unemployment benefits that are assisting more than 13 million Americans.
The proposal is divided into two bills. The larger $748 billion bill includes measures, including airline aid and a second round of PPP funding, that are widely supported by both parties. A second, $160 billion bill addresses federal relief for local and state governments as well as liability protections for businesses in cases where employees are infected with Covid-19 on the job.
Democrats support funding for state and local governments, while Republicans support liability protection. By separating those issues from the remainder of the relief package, the Bipartisan, Bicameral Group hopes to put an end to the long hold-up on other relief measures.
The $25 billion proposed for airlines in the larger bill would extend the Payroll Support Program (PSP) that had been in place under the Cares Act through the end of September. The program assisted beleaguered air carriers in paying staff from the onset of the pandemic through Sept. 30, but in exchange prohibited airlines from furloughing or laying off workers and also prohibited them from reducing pay rates of nonexecutive staff.
In October, the month after the PSP expired, employment in the U.S. airline sector plunged by 37,000, bringing the industry's total employment number to its lowest since the Bureau of Transportation Statistics began keeping that figure in 1990. Since the start of the pandemic, employment at U.S. airlines is down by the equivalent of 92,000 full-time workers.
The larger bill would also provide $4 billion to airports, with set-asides for hard-hit airport concessionaires, such as retailers and restaurants. In addition, $8 billion would go to the motorcoach and bus industry as well as ferries, school buses and other passenger services. Amtrak would also get $1 billion in aid.
Many travel companies, including agencies and tour operators, would be eligible to apply for support under a new $300 billion round of PPP funding. The program would be open to companies of 300 or fewer employees that have sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter this year. The PPP provides forgivable loans to business that retain their employees.
The proposal also expands PPP eligibility to include nonprofits of 150 people or less. Tourism offices are specifically mentioned in the legislation of entities that would become eligible.
"It will be important to watch how the process plays out over the next few days, but we are encouraged by the clear bipartisan support for a measure that would help save some of the 4.5 million travel and tourism jobs that are projected to be lost by year's end," Tori Emerson Barnes, the U.S. Travel Association's executive vice president for public affairs and policy, said of the proposal.
"Travel and tourism, which supported employment for one in 10 Americans pre-pandemic, has been spiraling for months while a relief agreement has remained just beyond political reach. It is crucial that Congress stay laser-focused on getting a measure across the finish line this year."