Airline Weekly

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U.S. Airlines Could Get $17 Billion in Relief if Bipartisan Covid Relief Is Approved

Madhu Unnikrishnan
December 1st, 2020

Photo credit:  FEMA/Bill Koplitz

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives has proposed $908 billion in emergency pandemic fiscal aid, of which $21 billion could go to airlines and airports if the measure passes.

In the new proposal, airlines would get $17 billion to extend the CARES Act’s Payroll Support Program, a spokeswoman for Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told Airline Weekly. Airports would get $4 billion in new stimulus funds, including a subset of funds for airport concessions, she added.

Before the CARES Act expired on Oct. 1, airline CEOs were regulars on Capitol Hill to press for more aid for the industry. Union leaders took to the airwaves to gin up public support for extending the Payroll Support Program, and union members around the country staged events at airports to bring awareness to their cause. There was brief hope in August and September that the industry could benefit from a standalone aid bill, but those hopes were dashed when Congress failed to act on any of the number of bills introduced in both houses.

The new proposal so far is short of the $25 billion extension the airline industry had lobbied for before the CARES Act funding expired on Oct. 1. Airlines are in the process of furloughing more than 30,000 employees whose jobs were supported by the Payroll Support Program but have said they could recall workers if new Congressional aid materialized. Airports, which received $10 billion through the CARES Act, had lobbied for $13 billion in further support.

“U.S. airlines have said they may be able to restore these jobs if the Payroll Support Program (PSP) is extended, but this becomes increasingly challenging with each passing day,” Airlines for America (A4A) President Nicholas Calio said. “Now, as our nation prepares for the approval of a coronavirus vaccine, it is more critical than ever that our employees are on the job and ready to assist with the distribution of these vaccines across the country and around the world.”

The $21 billion for aviation is part of the $45 billion proposed for transportation overall: Bus transportation would get $8 billion, Amtrak $1 billion, and local transit, $15 billion. These numbers are preliminary and will remain fluid until the proposal is introduced as legislation.

The proposal includes temporary protection for businesses to avoid liability from coronavirus-related lawsuits, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. This had been a major sticking point for Republicans on more coronavirus aid, while Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), were adamant that liability protection be excluded.

The measure was put forward by Republican and Democratic senators as well as the 50 representatives in the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of centrist lawmakers in the lower chamber. Of the $908 billion, more than $500 billion is comprised of unused funds from the CARES Act stimulus earlier this year, and just under $350 billion would be new money from Congress. “I don’t like spending money we don’t have,” Romney told reporters on Tuesday, “But the time to borrow money is in a crisis.”

“It would be stupidity on steroids if Congress left [for the winter recess] without a bill,” Warner said. But it remains unclear if a bill will emerge from the proposal, or if one does, whether it will be taken up by either chamber or signed into law by President Trump.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has not signaled whether the administration will support further pandemic aid, Romney said, adding that Mnuchin has been consulted on parts of the proposal, including how much funding the airline industry needs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also has not weighed in, Romney said. House and Senate Democrat leadership were “encouraging,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) said, but he stopped short of saying whether they offered their explicit support for the proposal.

The proposal is a fraction of the $2 trillion HEROES Act the House passed earlier this year, which the Senate did not consider. The Senate had mooted far less aid, of about $500 billion. “I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to put the months of stalled negotiations behind us, and to support this bipartisan compromise in order to ensure that families across the country are not forced to spend the holiday unable to put food on the table,” Warner added.


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