ASTA lobbying to get more federal aid for travel agents

ASTA’s wish list for the fourth round of federal coronavirus
relief funding includes an expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program,
additional funding for other programs and airline customer service commitments.

Thus far, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares)
Act has been the largest round of relief at $2 trillion, approved last month.
Before that were the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental
Appropriations Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Under the Cares Act, travel agencies large and small (including
independent contractors) saw some rescue options.

“While we appreciate the support Congress provided for
agencies, agency employees and independent contractors as part of the Cares
Act, it is clear that more needs to be done,” said Eben Peck, ASTA’s executive
vice president of advocacy. “Our recommendations for the next round of
coronavirus relief legislation are largely informed by gaps in and
implementation issues with the programs in the Cares Act and are based on
extensive consultations with our members over the past few weeks.”

The Society has been in touch with legislators, the Treasury
Department and the Small Business Administration, Peck said. Those talks will

According to published reports, members of Congress have
been discussing the potential relief package since early April.

ASTA has five main requests for the next round of
coronavirus relief:

• Expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program, which was
introduced under the Cares Act as a way for small businesses (500 or fewer
employees) to keep workers on their payrolls. ASTA has concerns that the $349
billion in funding will dry up quickly, that last-minute rules from the SBA
make this program less attractive, that agencies with more than 500 employees
or independent contractiros will be left without relief, and that its
provisions for hiring employees back are “overly restrictive” and encourage
businesses to beef up their payrolls when business is at a standstill. ASTA
provided a number of changes that would make the program more favorable,
including increasing the employee cap for eligibility to 2,000 and increasing
funding to $750 billion.

• Additional funding for ticket agent loans, also introduced
under the Cares Act. Under that act, the Treasury Department can make up to $25
billion in loans and loan guarantees for airlines, airline-related businesses
(like inspection or repair stations) and ticket agents. While it is unknown how
much of that $25 billion will be set aside for ticket agents, ASTA is
requesting additional funding to ensure travel agencies are able to get
adequate funding.

• Additional funding for another Cares Act provision, the
Emergency Economic Injury Program, enabling small businesses to receive up to
$10,000 for immediate business expenses as they wait for additional relief from
an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. The Society said early member feedback
indicates the program was “quickly overwhelmed” and the SBA capped emergency
grants at $1,000 with total loans limited to $15,000. ASTA would like an
additional $50 billion in funding for this program.

• Enhanced support for employees of larger businesses. ASTA
said it is supportive of the U.S. Travel Association and American Hotel &
Lodging Association recommendations to enhance the Treasury Department’s
Exchange Stabilization Fund because it will help larger businesses retain
employees and stay solvent. The Society is supportive of amending the Cares Act
so ESF loan forgiveness mirrors PPP loan forgiveness. Then, larger businesses
could benefit from up to three months of loan forgiveness for employee
retention and expenses. 

• ASTA is also asking Congress to use the next bill to
require a number of things of airlines, including relaxing existing fare rules
and providing refunds for flights through the end of the year, refraining from
issuing debit memos to agencies for credit card chargebacks on canceled trips for
which the airlines have refused refunds, and fully refunding flights canceled
by the carrier when requested by the consumer.

“This remains the biggest crisis our industry has ever
faced, and our goal is the same at the start of the crisis — to fight as hard
as we can to get the most financial relief for the largest number of our
members as possible,” Peck said.

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