Massive relief bill leaves some industries happy, others disappointed
The unveiling of a massive coronavirus relief package on Monday drew praise from some business groups, while others criticized Congress for not including their top priorities as the pandemic stretches into 2021.
Travel and entertainment companies secured sought-after provisions, but public sector unions and independent restaurants were largely left out of the $900 billion bill.
Here is how major industries fared in the COVID-19 relief measure.
Airlines got a $15 billion boost and an extension of the Payroll Support Program, a key provision from the CARES Act that expired in October.
In order to receive the $15 billion in aid, airlines will have to call back any employees who were furloughed in October. That means tens of thousands of airline workers are likely to head back to work very soon.
The legislation also provides $2 billion to airports. Airports Council International-North America said airports are “grateful” for the forthcoming influx of cash for a hard-hit industry.
The struggling hotel industry praised the inclusion of $284 billion for a second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that help support small businesses.
American Hotel & Lodging Association CEO Chip Rogers said the bill provides “a critical lifeline for hotels,” and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, the largest hotel owners association in the country, celebrated the PPP’s increased loan amounts.
The package also expands the PPP to allow for destination marketing organizations to qualify for loans, a top priority for the U.S. Travel Association.
The relief package creates a $15 billion grant program for live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions. Advocates have pushed for this program since July.
The National Independent Venue Association, which represents more than 3,000 independent venues and promoters, applauded the inclusion of the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act in Monday’s package.
“We’re thrilled that Congress has heard the call of shuttered independent venues across the country and provided us a crucial lifeline by including the Save Our Stages Act in the COVID-19 Relief Bill,” Dayna Frank, the group’s board president, said in a statement.
One of the many tax provisions in the legislation is a permanent excise tax reduction for alcohol producers, a top priority for the industry ever since a temporary cut was included in the 2017 GOP tax bill. Those tax cuts had been set to expire on Dec. 31.
“This is a huge sigh of relief for struggling craft distillers who have been on pins and needles awaiting the outcome of these discussions. While not yet a done deal, making the reduced tax rates permanent will serve as an economic lifeline for beleaguered small distilleries that have had their tasting rooms shut down for months,” said Distilled Spirits Council CEO Chris Swonger.
The relief bill also reinstates the deduction on business meals through January 2023, which Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America Senior Vice President Michael Bilello called “a win for family-owned businesses.”
“Anything that gets people spending money in our nation’s restaurants should be applauded at this juncture,” he said.
State and local governments
The National Association of Counties expressed disappointment that the package did not include new funding for public sector front-line workers.
“Our message today is the same as it has been since the beginning of this pandemic: a coronavirus relief package without aid for state and local governments fails counties and our residents, whose lives and livelihoods are on the line,” the association said in a statement.
Democrats dropped their demand for another round of state and local aid earlier this month when Republicans dropped their demand for liability protections for businesses against coronavirus-related lawsuits. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday said he will “insist” that liability protections be included in any coronavirus deal next year.
Democrats have argued that states and cities will still benefit from provisions in the relief package by way of the $82 billion it provides for colleges and schools.
Public service worker unions
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest union of public employees, said the bill is a “slap in the face” for its workers because of the lack of funding for state and local governments.
The deal doesn’t include more money directly for state and local governments. Instead, it includes $1.6 billion to back local government efforts to distribute the vaccine and to conduct coronavirus testing and contact tracing.
“The pandemic blew holes in budgets nationwide. Unlike the federal government, states and localities cannot run deficits. Already, 1.3 million front-line public service workers have been thanked for their heroism with pink slips, with more than a million more on the chopping block,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement.
He noted that front-line public service workers such as nurses, first responders, sanitation workers and correction officers have “risked their lives” and emergency funding for essential services is critical.
Long-term care facilities
Long-term care facility residents and workers are at the front of the line to receive the vaccine but were not included in the relief package.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities, criticized the lack of funding for personal protective equipment, testing and payroll support.
The association noted that nearly two-thirds of long-term care facilities are operating at a loss due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The restaurant industry was split in its reactions.
The package does not provide direct funds to restaurants and bars, despite the restaurant industry lobbying for an industry-specific fund throughout the pandemic.
“This bill falls woefully short of giving 11 million independent restaurant workers the job security they need before the holidays,” said the Independent Restaurant Coalition.
The National Restaurant Association, however, said it is pleased with the legislation, calling it a “big win for restaurants.”
“The plan includes several items that will benefit restaurants, most importantly a second round of access to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with unique provisions aimed to assist the restaurant industry, which continues to endure unparalleled job and revenue losses,” the association said.
The PPP will also allow restaurants to seek forgivable loans based on 3.5 times monthly payroll costs, as opposed to based on 2.5 times monthly payroll costs, and will allow restaurants to qualify for the loans if they do not employ more than 300 employees at each physical location.
The package extends a provision of the CARES Act that allowed for a tax break of up to $300 given to charity in addition to the standard deduction through 2021.
The National Council of Nonprofits applauded the extension, as well as other provisions, but said the package doesn’t do enough because it limits nonprofits’ access to PPP loans.
“The bill is far from enough. PPP eligibility is more limited than the first round, continuing to deny midsize and larger nonprofits any relief and turning away many organizations that remained open to deliver services only because of first-round PPP funding,” CEO Tim Delaney said.
It also includes an extension of the 50 percent coverage of unemployment costs for reimbursing employers until March, but Delaney said that without providing full relief for unemployment costs, nonprofits will have to lay off more workers.
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