Senate Bill Provides Some Relief But “Clearly Not Enough,” ASTA Says

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The U.S. Senate is set to vote on a new round of COVID-19 (coronavirus) relief, titled ‘‘Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act.” The bill, proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, includes more money for a small business loan program, a scaled-back version of an expanded unemployment payment program, and funding for schools and the U.S. Postal Service, according to NPR. Democrats have reportedly opposed the plan, calling it “emaciated.” The bill, however, would be the first relief package passed by Congress since May.

In response to the introduction of the “skinny” coronavirus relief package, Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy at the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), released a statement, saying, “We welcome the provisions in the ‘Targeted Relief Package’ released by Senate Republicans that will provide additional relief and other benefits to some members of the ASTA community. These include the ability for companies with 300 or fewer employees whose revenues are down at least 35 percent year-over-year to apply for an additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of up to $2 million; an extension of expanded federal unemployment benefits through the end of the year, though at a reduced level of $300 per week; and a broad business ‘liability shield’ against COVID-related personal injury claims. 

Peck goes on to say that, while welcome, the provisions “are clearly not enough given the catastrophic impact of COVID-19 on our part of the travel industry. We call on Congress—the leadership of both parties in particular—to come to the negotiating table, work out their differences, and send a bill to President [Donald] Trump’s desk as soon as possible.”

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According to a survey of its members in August, ASTA found that close to 95 percent of travel agencies’ revenue is down at least three-quarters year-over-year. In addition, 63 percent have laid off at least half of their pre-COVID W-2 employees and nearly three-quarters (73 percent) will be out of business within six months unless Congress provides additional, meaningful relief.

“That’s why we’re asking that, in addition to the items mentioned above, the final bill include support for the airline industry and those who sell their products,” Peck said in the statement. “It should also incorporate as many elements of the RESTART Act (S. 3814/H.R. 7481) as possible into any PPP extension and restore the $600 per week expanded unemployment benefits at least through the end of the year.”

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