Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) has been working feverishly along with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) with the motorcoach, school bus and U.S. passenger vessel industries for the past few weeks to craft legislation.
ABA, the Passenger Vessel Association, United Motorcoach Association and the National School Transportation Association have been working closely with Sens. Reed and Collins and their staffs on addressing the error that was made in previous stimulus bills for transportation, including the CARES Act when it was passed in March.
"ABA has been asking Congress to provide $10 billion in grants and $5 billion in loans to help the our decimated industry stay in business through the pandemic," said ABA President & CEO Peter Pantuso. "We are thankful that our industry's cry has been heard."
The Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act will provide $10 billion in emergency economic relief funding, in the form of grants (no less than 50 percent of total funding) and other economic assistance, through the Department of the Treasury, to motorcoach operators, school bus companies, U.S. flag passenger vessel operators, and other U.S. transportation service providers designated by the Secretary of the Treasury in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation.
The legislation exempts the airlines and other segments of the aviation industry that were covered explicitly under the CARES Act, and it restricts total assistance from all federal sources to no more than a transportation provider’s 2019 revenue.
The bill conditions funding on companies retaining their employees as of the date of enactment and on bringing back employees as business improves. In addition to supporting payroll, assistance under the bill can be used for maintaining equipment and facilities and for expenses related to protecting employees and customers from the novel coronavirus.
According to the language in the bill:
Virtually every source of business and revenue for these transportation providers has been severely restricted or eliminated. The abrupt closure of colleges, universities, and public schools, the cancellation of mass public events like concerts and sporting events, and the suspension of most tourism means that passenger levels are likely be depressed for many more months. Even as states reopen their economies, the public is likely to be wary of commercial travel until a vaccine or other measures eliminate the risk of illness from the novel coronavirus.
For those companies still offering service, there will be significant additional operating costs as they observe public health recommendations for social distancing, cleaning, and the use of PPE to reduce exposure to the novel coronavirus.
While many of these transportation providers rely on the travel and leisure market, many also provide essential transportation services for millions of Americans. Indeed, at this time when we are reflecting on how we can help underserved segments of our population, we should not forget the critical role that intercity bus service plays for so many people striving for success today. Many of these companies have been on the front lines of COVID-19 response, carrying health care workers, farm workers, utility workers, and other essential personnel, as well as critical supplies, to where they are needed.
These companies rely on a dedicated, skilled, and regulated workforce. If employees are idled without pay for many months, it will be difficult for them, without additional federal assistance, to retain these employees. Once lost, these skilled workers will be hard to replace when the demand for transportation revs back up.
Finally, perhaps more than other businesses, the transportation service providers covered by this bill have made significant investments on major equipment (vessels, buses, motorcoaches, etc.) and facilities, which require not only debt service but also ongoing maintenance so that they are ready for operation when called upon.
"This money is sorely needed asap," said Pantuso. "A recent ABA Foundation report stated that despite states moving forward with their re-opening phases, the motorcoach industry stands to lose $11 billion, nearly 75 percent of its annual revenue, because of COVID-19. These much needed grants will help stave off absolute ruin for the industry. It will take years for the industry to recover back to its pre-coronoavirus revenue."
NOW is the time for you to call and meet with your Senators while they are home for the July 4 recess. Tell them to vote YES for the CERTS Act!