ASTA, U.S. Travel Applaud Biden's Proposed Emergency Relief Plan

On Thursday, President-elect Joe Biden shared his proposed $1.9 trillion relief package to combat the economic downturn and the COVID-19 crisis. The package, according to The New York Times, includes more than $400 billion to combat the pandemic directly (including money to accelerate vaccine deployment) and $350 billion to help state and local governments bridge budget shortfalls, as well as $1,400 direct payments to individuals, more generous unemployment benefits, federally mandated paid leave for workers and large subsidies for child care costs.

Some specifics: With emergency unemployment insurance programs set to expire in mid-March, the bill would extend these through the end of September, while providing a $400 per week supplement. (This is lower than the $600 available from the CARES Act but higher than the $300 included with the December relief package.) Additionally, $160 billion would be used for a national vaccination program, expanding testing, a public health jobs program and more steps to fight the virus. The plan would reinstate the paid sick and family leave benefits that expired at the end of December until September 30.

As for small businesses, the bill, according to CNN, calls for $15 billion to create a new grant program for small business owners, separate from the existing Paycheck Protection Program. It would also invest $35 billion in some state, local, tribal and non-profit financing programs that make low-interest loans and provide venture capital to entrepreneurs.

“We welcome and wholeheartedly support the provisions of President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 relief proposal that will help spur the travel industry’s recovery and provide support to ASTA members, employees and independent contractors," said Eben Peck, EVP, advocacy for the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) in a statement provided to Travel Agent. "These include an ambitious national vaccination program, an extension of the CARES Act’s unemployment programs through September and targeted grants to small businesses hit hardest by COVID. That said, this is just the beginning of the process and we are working with allies in Congress to build on these proposals and provide additional support for our members, including targeted funding for travel businesses and new long-term loan programs for hard-hit businesses along the lines of last year’s RESTART Act.”

U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow in a statement, said: “Accelerating the distribution of vaccines is the key to getting travel back to normal, and we applaud President-elect Biden’s emphasis on a robust federal leadership role to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“Further, we are encouraged by the measures to provide additional grants and loans to small businesses in the hardest-hit industries, which include travel. The Paycheck Protection Program is set to expire in March, but the economic hardships of the pandemic will persist, so it is important that struggling businesses continue to receive aid to maintain operations and keep workers on payrolls.

“Prior to the pandemic, travel jobs existed in every congressional district. Travel will play a vital role in America’s economic recovery in the months ahead, but businesses will need this lifeline to survive until regular travel can fully resume.

“We are grateful to President-elect Biden for his focus on combating the virus and providing relief to America’s hard-hit industries, and we look forward to working with the new administration on additional recovery and stimulus measures.”

Despite a 50-50 tie in the Senate, the Times adds that it’s unclear how easily Biden could secure enough votes to pass the legislation.

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