There was reason to celebrate during the most recent United Motorcoach Association (UMA) Town Hall, held on July 2 and hosted by President & CEO Larry Killingsworth and COO Ken Presley. Just 24 hours earlier, Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) introduced the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act, or CERTS Act (S. 4150), that would provide up to $10 billion in economic relief through loans and grants for the motorcoach industry. In fact, the bill was so new that it didn’t even have a bill number at the start of the call.
“The CERTS Act is specifically targeted to motorcoach operators to help bridge the gap until motorcoaches are rolling again. It recognizes the capital-intensive nature of our members and will help them maintain their skilled team members, as well,” said Killingsworth.
Presley and Killingworth were joined by UMA lobbyist Becky Weber of Prime Policy to give the tentative details of the proposed bill, including:
- Not less than 50 percent of the amount will be used to provide grants.
- Funding for an over-the-road bus company may not exceed their 2019 calendar year revenue.
- Operators must recall or rehire any employee laid off, furloughed, or terminated because of reduced service and maintain employment through December 31, 2020 (pay, paid administrative leave, and paid benefits as of the date of enactment).
- Funds can be used for continued operations and maintenance of existing capital equipment and facilities including rent, leases, insurance payments, and debt service, as well as any special COVID requirements (PPE, Plexiglas barriers, cleaning materials).
The emergency assistance would be facilitated through the Department of the Treasury and with guidance from the Secretary of Transportation. Although it’s very early in the process, Presley said that the program could resemble a mix of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Main Street Lending Program.
While UMA has been working behind the scenes with other bus associations—including the American Motorcoach Association—to help get the bill launched, Presley noted that it was the indefatigable efforts of members and industry supporters contacting their lawmakers with more than 46,000 letters over the campaign that drove it home.
“The legislative team at UMA has been quietly working with Senators Collins’ and Reed’s staffs for weeks now,” said Presley. “The bill has gone through several drafts, so it was important to allow the process to take its normal course. We all need to work together to get it passed."
Weber stressed that it was crucial not to take the foot off the gas with Congressional outreach as the critical window to get the bill passed ends when both chambers recess again on August 7—just five weeks from now. As the House and Senate are both on recess until July 20 and legislators are in their districts, now is the time to schedule in-person meetings, phone calls, and send letters to keep the pressure on. While the CERTS Act will be part of the overall next round of COVID relief, the appetite for a bill exceeding $1 trillion is low for Republicans.
Weber added that if met with resistance from lawmakers who refer them to the PPP, she said to thank them for that short-term assistance but to stress that this unique industry will have a longer-term recovery than most that desperately need additional emergency aid—and “hammer home the WHY.”
She also recommended building a coalition of peers—OEMs, DMCs, hotels, travel and hospitality professionals, and even friends and family—to contact Congress.
UMA member Kim Grzywacz of CIT Signature Transportation—who had great success when contacting her representatives in her home state of Iowa—also encouraged her fellow members to treat these efforts like you’re fighting for your biggest sale. In addition to the form letters that can be found here and here, she recommended sending your own personalized letter to tell your own story and “be a little vulnerable.”
The PPP, which was extended through August 8 after the original June 30 deadline saw $130 billion in untapped funds, is also being considered for a second phase where business owners could reapply to cover salaries and partial expenses for another eight-week period. Presley reported that many members have found a way to make the program work well for their companies as travel slowly begins again.
In other news, UMA Risk Management Chair Matt Dance of Champion Coach announced developments in UMA's AssurCLEAN, a free training and certification program for members on COVID-19 safety protocols. More details about the program can be found here.
UMA Town Halls are scheduled for every Thursday at 2 PM ET. Visit uma.org for more information on how to join the weekly meeting.