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Bipartisan Working Group from U.S. Senate and House Releases Text of Proposed COVID Relief Packages

In the wee morning hours on Tuesday, ARTBA shared the following announcement to its affiliates. OCA wanted to share the following to assure you are aware of the progress being made toward adoption of potential COVID relief legislation from the federal government. This still has a long way to go but this announcement demonstrates that efforts remain underway:

A bipartisan working group of Senate and House members Monday released the text of a proposed group of COVID relief packages. If leadership in both chambers agree, these measures are likely to be the basis of the next COVID relief legislation Congress will consider. The proposal comes in three parts…

     1. A $748 billion relief package, with broad bipartisan agreement from the group.

     2. A $160 billion package of assistance for state and local governments, favored by Democrats.

     3. Liability protections for businesses dealing with COVID-19 pandemic outbreaks, favored by Republicans.

Splitting off the second and third pieces is part of a strategy to keep the effort moving forward. Since Democratic and Republican leaders maintain differing positions on them, there was concern that a single package containing both provisions would reach a dead end.

While the release of the bipartisan package represents positive movement in the long-stalled negotiations, Senate and House leadership must still agree to this approach. There is optimism among many members of Congress, but still no guarantee a final agreement will come together before the holidays. However, given this bipartisan framework could continue gaining momentum, ARTBA is highlighting provisions that are likely of interest based on our initial review...

Package One - Key Provisions ($748 billion in COVID relief spending)


     • No direct aid for state departments of transportation (see Package Two regarding aid to state and local governments)

     • $17 billion for airlines/airline workers

     • $15 billion for transit

          o Enables a transit agency to use these funds for Capital Investment Grant (CIG) project costs if it has not laid off workers and cannot otherwise use its entire allocation from this bill or the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
          o Makes clear private contractors operating transit systems may be paid using these funds.

     • $8 billion for transportation services/bus companies

     • $4 billion for airport operations

     • $580 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor

     • $420 million for Amtrak service in the rest of the country

     Paycheck Protection Program (PPP):

     • Clarifies that business expenses paid with PPP loans are treated as tax deductible, contrary to a recent interpretation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

     • Simplifies the loan forgiveness process for borrowers who received $150,000 or less through the program.

     • Allows certain companies to apply for a “second draw” (i.e. additional loan) from the PPP program. Applicants must have 300 or fewer employees and sustained a 30 percent or greater revenue loss during 2020.

     • Makes 501(c)(6) organizations with 150 or fewer employees eligible for the PPP program, provided they do not derive more than ten percent of their income from or spend more than ten percent of their time on lobbying activities.

As with all issues related to PPP loans, ARTBA members should consult with financial professionals before making decisions about program participation.

Package Two - Key Provisions ($160 billion for state and local COVID relief assistance)

     State and Local Aid:

• $160 billion for state and local governments (roughly $91 billion for states, $61 billion for localities, $8 billion for tribes).

          o Would be dispersed in three separate installments based on population and revenue losses in proportion to previous year’s revenue loss.

               ¤ Installment one (approximately $90 billion) within 30 days of enactment

               ¤ Installment two (approximately $52 billion) by June 1, 2021

               ¤ Installment three (approximately $10 billion) by Sept. 1, 2021

          o The $61 billion for localities (40 percent of the total) will be dispersed by the governors according to population, lost revenue, or some combination thereof.

     • Flexible eligibility for the use of funds, including replacement of lost revenue. Note this could be a source of assistance to state departments of transportation.

     • Broadened flexibility for the use of unspent CARES Act money, allowing states with remaining unobligated funds to use those dollars to make up for unforeseen lost revenue.

Package Three - Key Provisions (Business Liability Protections) Business Liability Protections:

     • If one or more COVID cases can be traced to a workplace, but the business is/was trying to conform to the best known and available public health guidance relating to COVID-19, then the employer would not be subject to liability under federal employment law.

     • This provision would be retroactive to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In coming days, ARTBA will continue to review these provisions and confer with congressional staff, our consultants and other authorities. We will keep all of you fully informed on developments, especially relating to possible sources of backstop funding for state departments of transportation. Please let us know if you have questions.

Remember that ARTBA and our coalition allies are also continuing to advocate for additional transportation infrastructure investment as part of the FY2021 appropriations legislation being negotiated on Capitol Hill this week. Again, we will report developments as they happen.