By Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations, ARTBA

Senate leaders March 25 released the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the third Senate response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The $2 trillion legislation would aid individuals, small businesses and economically distressed sectors of the economy.

The largest portion of the bill would provide direct payments to individuals and families to help stimulate the economy. The remaining sections of the bill contain $330 billion in supplemental federal spending. Nearly a third of this amount is directed toward hospitals and other health care-related needs, while two-thirds is assistance for economically distressed industries and small businesses.

Those provisions most relevant to ARTBA members are highlighted below:

Aid for Distressed Businesses

  • Boosts the Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program by $349 million to help businesses avert layoffs and meet payroll obligations.
    • Those with fewer than 500 employees are eligible to apply.
    • Loans may be used for employee salaries, paid or family medical leave, insurance premiums, mortgages, rent and utilities.
    • Loans will be forgiven if payrolls are maintained.
  • Waives withdrawal penalties for early withdrawals from retirement plans.
  • Provides flexibility for loans from retirement plans for coronavirus-related expenditures.
  • Provides a refundable payroll tax credit for up to 50 percent of wages paid by employers to employees who faced fully or partially suspended operations due to COVID-19 or if gross receipts declined more than 50 percent in comparison to prior years.
  • Defers payment on employer payroll taxes with half due by Dec. 31, 2021 and the remainder due Dec. 31, 2022.

Transit

  • $25 billion for Transit Infrastructure Grants to support operations and capital expenses using existing Federal Transit Administration formulas.
  • $1.018 for the national Amtrak network.
    • $492 million in grants for the “Northeast Corridor.
    • $526 million in National Network grants.

Airlines and Airports

  • $9.4 billion for commercial airports to use for operating expenses to help offset the impacts of the coronavirus downturn in airport business.
  • $100 million in aid for general aviation airports.
  • $500 million to help airports meet their non-federal share requirements for their FY 2020 Airport Improvement Program capital investment grants.

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund

  • Budgetary provision that would deem future expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), up to the level of the previous year’s collected revenue, as “off-budget” or “mandatory” spending. This would ensure all future HMTF user fee revenues are invested in port, harbor, and waterway infrastructure improvements in a timely manner.

Next Steps

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated a preference to pass the legislation quickly, though a vote has not been scheduled.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was involved in the negotiations on the third package and plans to support the measure. Conference calls with various House task forces will continue through Wednesday evening to brief members on the details and determine next steps for passage.

House action would occur Thursday, March 26, at the earliest, and will most likely involve a voice vote to prevent members from being called back to Washington. President Donald Trump is expected to support the bill given the prominent role Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin played in its development.