On a special webinar on Friday, representatives from the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) updated members on the fiscal stimulus package that passed through Congress and to President Trump’s desk this week.
Representatives spoke about how—while the organization didn’t get everything it pushed for in the stimulus—the inclusion of travel advisors in the stimulus was a big win for the trade, and support from ASTA members were a big reason why.
“This crisis underscores the need to speak in a collective voice,” ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby said.
Politico, a political commentary website, chose agents as one of its big winners on its coverage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, on Friday.
Politico wrote: “The airlines used their clout to get tens of billions of dollars in grants and loans included in the bill, but carriers aren’t the only ones who will benefit. The $25 billion allocated in loans and loan guarantees for the airlines will also benefit eligible businesses ‘approved to perform inspection, repair, replace, or overhaul services, and ticket agents.’ The last two words — “ticket agents” — mean that travel agents who book flights will also be able to apply for a piece of the $25 billion.”
“You usually don’t want to read your own name on its pages or on its website,” Kerby joked, “Who tops the list? Travel agents. We’ll forgive them for not referring to us as Advisors…ASTA’s unprecedented advocacy campaign is the reason.”
In the two weeks since launching its grassroots campaign, 28,604 people have used ASTA.org to contact their members of Congress, ASTA said, beating the last watermark that ASTA set during its fight over California’s AB5 law last year.
“I commend our members who have really stepped up over the last few weeks,” executive vice president of Advocacy Eben Peck said. “Through it all our objectives were constant – If Congress was going to give targeted relief to the travel industry, travel agencies were to be included.”
Victory for ICs and application processes
Independent contractors (ICs) are usually not included in unemployment insurance because the program is funded by both employer and employee contributions, of which ICs don’t typically contribute to. However, things changed with the stimulus package.
“The CARES Act recognizes that there are a whole lot of unemployed people who are impacted by the Congress,” Senior Vice President & General Counsel Peter Lobasso said.
For ICs, the inclusion means that those who meet the criteria can now receive benefits through their state’s unemployment program, essentially as if they were W2s. IC’s do have to show that they were impacted by COVID-19 and would have been available and able to work as usual, a requirement that Lobasso said would be “loosely interpreted.”
In addition, ICs will be eligible to receive an additional $600 per week for up to four months, even if they were receiving less than that. Application procedures will vary state to state and there will be some delay in how state offices figure out how to handle the influx of new applications.
Companies with 500 or more employees will be able to apply for some of the $400 billion-plus of low- or no-interest loans and loan guarantees from the U.S. Treasury Department that have been earmarked in the bill for “U.S. businesses that incurred losses directly or indirectly as a result of coronavirus,” Lobasso said.
“Application procedures will be published soon by the Treasury Department and once they are available to us, we will be in position to share more with you,” he added.
Companies with fewer employees than that will be able to access a new set of small business loans of up to $2 million that will cover payroll, rent, mortgages, and other utilities. The interest rate for those loans will be 3.57% and payments can be deferred for a year.
Separate and apart from CARES, Lobasso said, Congress increased the lending authority for the SBA program a few weeks ago and “there is no shortage of funds.”
Online applications will be processed much more quickly than paper applications, according to ASTA. Agencies can access applications on the SBA website by clicking on the Coronavirus guidance link on the SBA homepage.
For advisors wanting relief through the Airline Economic Stabilization program, the $25 billion provision that included “tickets agents,” there is still a lot that needs to be learned. ASTA said it still needs to sort through everything that the program will do for advisors but it will be putting together a FAQ as soon as the Treasury Department and the Department of Transportation releases guidance.