At an Appropriations Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Ranking Member of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, urged Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg to expedite the distribution of COVID-19 relief funding for the bus, motorcoach, and passenger vessel industries.
The COVID-19 relief bill that was signed into law on December 27 included $2 billion for the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act that Senator Collins co-authored with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI). Senator Collins strongly advocated for the inclusion of this assistance in the COVID-19 relief package.
“Virtually every major source of business and revenue for bus companies, including school- and sports-related travel, tourism, public events, weddings, you name it, has been severely restricted or eliminated over the past 14 months,” said Senator Collins. “Now, I recognize that the Department of Treasury is responsible for the administration of the CERTS program, but despite the fact that the program was enacted into law over six months ago, not a single dollar has reached these entities that are struggling to survive.”
“Given that DOT has provided technical expertise and guidance to Treasury on this program, would you be willing to reach out to Treasury to see if you could use the expertise with dealing with these transportation companies to expedite this relief?” said Senator Collins. “If they have to wait another two months to actually get the money now that the portal has been set up, it is going to be a real problem. Many of them will not survive.”
Secretary Buttigieg pledged to Senator Collins that DOT stands ready to support Treasury in getting relief funding out the door.
“[W]e have a lot of relationships and data and expertise when it comes to the motorcoach industry,” Secretary Buttigieg told Senator Collins. “And we want to deploy that in order to be helpful. We did consult with [the Treasury Department] knowing how important this is to you, Senator Reed, and others on this committee on the way in, and were advised that the portal is set to go live and be ready to take applications this month…we’ll also do everything we can to make sure that that aid is flowing as promptly and responsibly as possible.”
“My hope is that we are not going to see another two-month delay once the applications are received,” Sen. Collins responded. “That would be truly tragic for a lot of these buses that are used by lower-income people, by schools, so I hope that you will help us on that.”
For the more than 3,000—mostly small and family-owned—motorcoach companies across the U.S., the cancellation of school field trips, tours, and college sports seasons forced thousands of employees to be furloughed or laid off. The pandemic also has taken a toll on the U.S. flag passenger vessel industry—grounding ferries and recreational tours—leaving owners and operators without customers and revenue. Finally, privately-owned school bus companies, which are responsible for transporting many of the more than 23 million school children who take the bus to school each day, faced significant losses when states and localities moved to virtual learning and curtailed extracurricular and afterschool programs.