Motorcoach company operators received welcome news Thursday afternoon when the U.S. Department of the Treasury released guidance on the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act grant program. The move by Treasury marks the first measurable step forward since the law was signed by then-President Donald Trump late last year, after six months of ceaseless lobbying efforts.
“Hearing this guidance has finally been released is music to the ears of motorcoach operators who fought long and hard for this critical funding,” UMA President and CEO Larry Killingsworth said. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel when companies will be able to apply for grants and finally receive some much-needed government aid, more than a year into this pandemic.”
While the guidance has been published, neither the application process nor portal is yet available. Once the Treasury Department releases the final requirements and opens the portal for CERTS, operators will have a four-week-long window in which to submit applications for funding. Only after the four-week period will Treasury determine eligibility and how much each individual applicant will receive. The CERTS grant program covers companies in the motorcoach, school bus and passenger vessel industries, as well as pilotage vessels.
“This is a time to congratulate the many operators and their team members who wrote and called their federal elected officials over so many months, never losing heart,” UMA COO Ken Presley said. “We are fortunate to have participated with strong coalition partners committed to passage and fruition.”
CERTS grant criteria
These include the American Bus Association, National School Transportation Association and the Passenger Vessel Association. Once the letter-writing was done and the law was signed, those coalition staff members and lobbyists have continued to work together. The group has been meeting twice weekly to map where we go from here and also to interface with Treasury officials as they worked to put the program in place.
“This is a big win on a number of levels. The CERTS grant application is not competitive but formula-based, meaning all applications are subject to uniform standards of review that will be applied equally,” Presley said.
Applications will be reviewed by the following criteria:
- A comparison of 2020 revenue vs. 2019 revenue.
- Amounts will be adjusted based on other federal assistance received.
- Tax documents will be used to validate an applicant’s revenues and employment.
- Motorcoach operators will be required to validate the number of vehicles by type.
Applicants will be able to check their progress online via the application portal. Once an application is approved, it appears that payments will be made promptly. Per the guidance, “if Treasury approves an application, it will send an email to the company representative inviting the company to sign a grant agreement. Treasury anticipates that within one business day after receiving a signed agreement they will issue an electronic grant payment.”
Grantees will be required to maintain records and submit a number of compliance reports to the Treasury.
“It is critical to note that careful attention to expenditures of grant monies must be monitored closely by recipients,” Presley said. “Any monies spent outside of the allowable parameters must be refunded to the U.S. Treasury.”
Grantee and grant information will be disclosed publicly on www.usaspending.gov. Companies that have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy or have closed after March 1, 2020, may still be eligible for grant funds.
What can operators do now?
For the time being, operators can prepare by having ready their recent tax documents, employment records and statements of revenue for 2019 and 2020. As well, operators must be prepared to validate the number of vehicles in their fleets by type.
Applicants will also need to register through ID.me, an identity verification service employed by Treasury and several other federal agencies. Presley encourages operators to immediately create an ID.me account so it will be in place once the application portal opens.