Congress and the Trump Administration have come to an agreement on a massive $2 trillion bill that includes assistance for travel advisors affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is expected to pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by President Trump in the coming days.
“The coronavirus pandemic has proved to be the biggest challenge ever faced by ASTA and its members,” said Zane Kerby, president and CEO of the American Society of Travel Advisors (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. We are also heartened by the outpouring of support from the industry, including over 28,000 grassroots messages to legislators through ASTA.org, and feel strongly that our efforts made a significant difference in the size and scope of relief options in the bill.”
Travel agencies will be able to take advantage of several provisions within the bill:
Travel Agencies Eligible for Airline Economic Stabilization Loans ($25 billion)
The Treasury Secretary can 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.
ASTA will work with both Treasury and Transportation Departments to implement this provision.
Small Business Interruption Loans/Paycheck Protection Program ($349 billion)
A new U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan program will provide 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.
These loans have no collateral or personal guaranty requirements and portions of these loans that cover 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)
This is a separate loan program through the U.S. Treasury Department where businesses can obtain low- or no-interest loans and loan guarantees if they incurred losses directly or indirectly as a result of coronavirus.
ASTA notes that 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 mentioned above.
Unemployment Benefits for the Self-Employed
The CARES Act also provides 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).
This portion of the bill was a priority for ASTA since there are around 40,000 independent contractors working in the industry and these individuals don’t have access to federal or state unemployment benefits.
The bill could still change and ASTA will be monitoring its passage in the coming days. The organization will also be analyzing the relief package and its provisions and is planning to hold a webinar on Friday, March 27 at 3 p.m. ET to provide members with its preliminary analysis.
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