ASTA says funding for the Small Business Administration’s
Payroll Protection Program and the Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan
program has largely dried up. The travel agent trade group is lobbying Congress
to replenish funding for both.
During a media call on Thursday, ASTA executive vice
president of advocacy Eben Peck said the Society has spent much time helping
members apply for benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic
Security (Cares) Act since it was signed into law in late March. That comes
after weeks of lobbying for travel agencies’ inclusion in the federal relief
Peck called the implementation of the Cares Act “chaotic”
and “messy,” and said Congress will have to revisit the Cares Act in addition
to mulling another round of relief.
The Payroll Protection Program, funded with $349 billion,
was designed to help small businesses keep workers on their payrolls.
Businesses with 500 or fewer employees, including independent contractors and
the self-employed, could apply for the program, which provided loans of up to
Peck said that program “is essentially out of money at this
The Payroll Protection Program has also been plagued with website
crashes and banks limiting who they will work with on loans, ASTA said.
ASTA is lobbying for several changes to the Payroll
Protection Program. The Society believes the employee cap for eligibility
should be 2,000, funding should be increased to $750 billion and the maximum
loan threshold should be increased from 250% of monthly payroll to 400% of all
The Society has created a grassroots portal
for members to contact lawmakers and urge them to fund and fix the Payroll
Under the Emergency Economic Injury Program, small
businesses and ICs were eligible to apply for Emergency Economic Injury
Disaster Loans. While they waited for their loans to be processed, they would
be issued a $10,000 grant for payroll and other immediate operating expenses.
But Peck said the program was overwhelmed and has run dry.
Member feedback and news reports revealed the emergency grants were capped by
the SBA at $1,000 per employee and total loans were limited to $15,000, when
maximum loans were originally envisioned to be $2 million. ASTA has asked that
another $50 billion be put into the program.
Peck expects Congress to work on an “interim round” of
funding to address the dried-up loan programs. Congress is currently on break
until May 4.
Democrats and Republicans want to replenish the funds using
unanimous consent, meaning senators and representatives would not have to
return to Washington to vote in person. The Democrats also want to do that,
Peck said, but they want to add funding for hospitals and state governments.
He believes an interim package will be passed in the “near
future,” before a potential fourth round of federal relief is introduced.
The unemployment claims mess
The Cares Act gave the self-employed unemployment benefits
for the first time. For the travel industry, that largely means independent
States were instructed to accommodate unemployment claims
from independent contractors, but the states weren’t equipped to do so, said ASTA
general counsel Peter Lobasso. He said the Society has received reports from
independent contractors that states haven’t been able to process their claims,
which has led to frustration.
ASTA is attempting to assist independent contractors with state-level resources and providing
frequent updates. Lobasso hopes the situation will soon be resolved.
There is a glimmer of hope: Utah announced on April 15 that
self-employed workers can now apply for unemployment.
Funding for big travel agencies
The Cares Act established a $500 billion Emergency
Stabilization Fund of loans and loan guarantees overseen by the Treasury
Department. Of that, $46 billion was carved out for airlines and related
aviation companies plus “ticket agents,” or travel agencies.
Peck said those funds are aimed at the largest travel
agencies that could not take advantage of the other relief initiatives in the
Cares Act for small and mid-sized businesses. Applications are due on April 17,
but Peck said late applications will be accepted by April 30.
ASTA said some of its larger members are applying, and the
Society will monitor the situation going forward.
Round 4 of relief funding?
Peck said Congress is expected to reconvene May 4. Depending
on the pandemic’s progress, he said, it’s possible that could be pushed further
While a fourth round of coronavirus relief is expected, it’s
hard to say exactly when, he said. The most likely time frame is mid-May.