On Wednesday, Congressional leadership and the Trump Administration came to agreement and released the text of a massive $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. While it is expected to pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by President Trump in the coming days, it is possible that additional changes might be made.
For the time being, provisions of the CARES Act that will provide relief to the travel agency industry, its employees and independent contractors (ICs) include:
- Travel Agencies Eligible for Airline Economic Stabilization Loans ($25 billion) – Under the bill, the Treasury Secretary is authorized to make up to $25 billion in loans, loan guarantees and other investments in support of passenger airlines, “ticket agents” (the statutory term for travel agencies) and other related aviation businesses.
- Small Business Interruption Loans/Paycheck Protection Program ($349 billion) – Under this new U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan program, loans of up to $10 million will be available to U.S. businesses under the existing SBA size standards ($22 million in annual revenue) or with 500 or fewer employees. Independent contractors and the self-employed are eligible. There are no collateral or personal guaranty requirements for these loans. The portion of these loans that covers the business’ payroll, mortgage, rent or utility expenses from February 15 to June 30 may be eligible for forgiveness in whole or in part.
- Economic Stabilization Loans for Severely Distressed Sectors ($425 billion) – Under the bill, the U.S. Treasury Department would be authorized to extend low- or no-interest loans and loan guarantees to U.S. businesses that incurred losses directly or indirectly as a result of coronavirus. This relief is only open to a “business that has not otherwise received adequate economic relief in the form of loans or loan guarantees provided under this Act,” indicating that businesses could not also apply for the new SBA program (see above).
- Unemployment Benefits for the Self-Employed – The CARES Act would also provide up to 39 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits to people not otherwise eligible for regular unemployment compensation (including the self-employed and those who have exhausted their regular benefits).
“The coronavirus pandemic has proved to be the biggest challenge ever faced by ASTA and its members,” said Zane Kerby, president and CEO ASTA. “Over the past few weeks, we have worked hand-in-hand with our 13,000 members to secure the maximum amount of relief for the travel agency community in this package. The fact that travel agencies are included in the airline assistance portion of the bill is a huge win and means that Congress heeded our call to include our members in any targeted travel industry relief.”
In the coming days, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) says it will analyze the entirety of the relief package for provisions impacting its members and will explore key topics, such as how the new SBA loan program interacts with the Administration’s existing Disaster Relief programs. ASTA says it will also monitor SBA and Treasury/Transportation Department announcements with regard to how they plan to distribute this relief.
ASTA adds that it sent over 28,000 grassroots messages to legislators through its advocacy page. It will also hold a member webinar on Friday, March 27 at 3 p.m. ET to provide members with a preliminary analysis.