ASTA Outlines Next Steps for Coronavirus Relief

ASTA has outlined its list of priorities for the next phase of coronavirus relief efforts.

“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, executive vice president, advocacy for ASTA. “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 in extensive consultations with our members over the past few weeks.”

The organization has identified four priorities it says will prevent further damage within the industry.

The first priority is the expansion of the Payroll Protection Program. ASTA points out that last-minute changes to the SBA loan program have made it less attractive to both borrowers and lenders, specifically restrictive “hire-back” provisions when business remains at a standstill.

ASTA asked that Congress include several changes in upcoming legislation related to coronavirus relief, including an increase to the employee cap to 2,000, increase funding for the PPP to $750 billion, extend the program through December 30, 2020, increase the loan threshold and more.

ASTA also recommends that Congress provide additional funding for ticket agent loans.

“Applications for this program are due April 17, so as of this writing we have no way of knowing how much of this $25 billion will be set aside for travel agencies as opposed to airlines or repair stations, but it is unlikely to be enough to meet the needs of agencies across the country,” ASTA noted. “As such, ASTA requests that Congress provide the Treasury Department with additional funding to extend loans to ticket agents under Section 4003(b)(1).”

ASTA would also like to see funding for the Emergency Economic Injury Program increased by $50 billion as the program has been overwhelmed, and it would like enhanced support for larger businesses.

“Specifically, ASTA supports amending the CARES Act to provide ESF loan forgiveness that mirrors PPP loan forgiveness, enabling mid- to large size businesses to obtain up to three months of loan forgiveness for employee retention and basic expenses; and clarifying that the Treasury Department may serve as the facility for direct lending to severely impacted businesses, similar to the direct loans that the Treasury Department is authorized to make to airlines and aviation businesses,” ASTA noted.

ASTA also outlined several steps needed to help travel agencies with airline rebookings and refunds.

The organization would like to see legislation in Congress that relaxes fare rules, stops the issuance of debit memos, ensures that all airline tickets are fully refundable, allows travel advisors to process refunds through the GDS and/or ARC, protect commissions and more.

“We have been in constant communication with Congressional offices, the Treasury Department, the SBA and others on these issues and will continue to do so,” said Peck. “This remains the biggest crisis our industry has ever faced, and our goal is the same as 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.”

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