Congress inches closer to a relief deal; CERTS remains

Pressed between a souring economy, an anxious electorate and desire to return to their home states for the holidays, Congress appears to be making progress on a relief bill introduced only yesterday by the Senate. The bill, entitled “Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020” is the right mix of compromises that restarted negotiations that most believed had little chance of occurring in the “lame duck” session.

Speaker Pelosi
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi

After concluding a meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell commented, “Leaders staying in town until there’s an agreement; so, there’s an agreement to reach an agreement.”

The bus and motorcoach industry is keenly interested in the inclusion of the CERTS Act. Reading the legislative text reveals this brief overview:

The “CERTS Act” language in the relief bill directs the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation, to provide grants, loans, and loan guarantees.

  • The bill appropriates guarantees to eligible providers of transportation services (over-the-road bus, private school bus contractors, and U.S. flagged passenger vessels) that have experienced a significant revenue loss as a direct or indirect result of COVID–19, $8 Billion for fiscal year 2021.
  • The Secretary of the Treasury shall take into consideration information provided by the provider of transportation services, including— the amount of debt owed by the provider of transportation services on major equipment, if any; other sources of Federal assistance provided to the provider of transportation services, if any; and such other information as the Secretary may require.
  • The Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure that not less than 50 percent of the amounts made available are used to provide grants.
  • The provision places a tremendous emphasis on employee compensation and returning them to payroll.
  • The Secretary of the Treasury shall require that (with some limited exception) a provider of transportation services shall agree to use an amount equal to not less than 60 per cent of the funds, on payroll costs of the provider of transportation services.
  • Recipients will commence using the funds— on a priority basis and to the extent available, to maintain through the applicable covered period, expenditures on payroll costs for all employees as of the date of enactment.
  • After payroll costs, other eligible expenses for assistance includes the acquisition of services, equipment (including personal protective equipment and other measures needed to protect workers and customers from COVID–19), continued operations and maintenance during the applicable covered period of existing capital equipment and facilities including rent, leases, insurance, and interest on debt service.

There are many more caveats and conditions, and if passed, we will not know the full extent of eligibility, the application process, distribution of the $8 billion, etc., until the Secretary of the Treasury completes the rulemaking process.

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