Congress’ latest $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, is good but not enough, according to ASTA.
The bill passed in the Senate over the weekend and is expected to pass in the House, and be signed into law by President Joe Biden, this week.
“While the American Rescue Plan Act provides some support, it is clear that more is needed for our industry,” ASTA CEO Zane Kerby said in a statement. “We have been catastrophically impacted by Covid-19 and face a longer recovery window than virtually any other industry.”
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Specifically, Kerby cited the fact that the average agency’s income was down 82% year over year in 2020 and that there will be “a substantial lag time” from when travel returns to meaningful volumes and agencies are paid based on typical commission payment schedules. ASTA said that lag time is anticipated at an average of eight months.
What’s in the bill
The latest relief bill does have some helpful provisions for the travel agency community, according to ASTA. It includes funding to distribute Covid-19 vaccines, an extension of the Employee Retention Tax Credit through the end of the year, an extension of enhanced unemployment benefits for laid off employees and independent contractors through September, full funding of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance grant program and setting aside some state and local funding to support travel and tourism businesses.
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Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, had offered two amendments supported by ASTA when the bill was under the Senate’s consideration, but they were ultimately not accepted. The Society, however, applauded her efforts to make travel agencies eligible for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program and deem Washington state-Alaska cruises “foreign voyages” to circumvent the Passenger Vessel Services Act.
Those amendments would have “much improved” the bill, ASTA said.
“As we have said time and again, when government action has a disproportionally negative impact on a specific industry, it is a matter of fundamental fairness that the government provide targeted relief to the businesses most severely affected,” Kerby said. “With this principle as our North Star, we will keep fighting for relief until the travel agency sector is restored to health.”
What ASTA wants
At a “minimum” going forward, ASTA is calling on Congress to extend the Paycheck Protection Program and target it toward the hardest-hit industries. The Society also wants travel agencies to be able to tap the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, as proposed by Murkowski and Reps. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., and Charlie Crist, D-Fla.
“We say to Congress — the job of Covid relief is not done,” Kerby said. “Through no fault of their own, the women and men in our membership — your constituents — are at risk of losing their livelihood and desperately need your support.”