Sometimes, progress is measured in inches and that’s never been more true than for those of us pushing for small businesses relief in Congress since the onset of COVID-19. I’m happy to report that – amid the dysfunction and partisan fighting on Capitol Hill – there has been progressing and there is a growing awareness of the fact that, for many industries, the pandemic is not over and additional support is needed.
Without a doubt, we are one of those industries. The travel agency sector was uniquely exposed to a global pandemic on the scale of COVID-19, as we are reliant on the types of travel that were immediately shut down by the virus and are only starting to reawaken – cruising, international outbound, and high-volume/high-frequency business travel.
Add to this the dreaded “commission lag” between when a trip is booked and when the associated revenue reaches the agency. For us, the needed support falls into two buckets – relief grants along the lines of those provided by the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in 2020 and early 2021 and the restoration or extension of the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC).
On the small business relief side, negotiations over a Senate package providing about $60 billion for restaurants and other businesses impacted by the omicron surge are reportedly ongoing, led by Small Business Committee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS).
While support for restaurants is getting most of the attention in Washington, Chairman Cardin made a point to stress at a recent press conference that the new package would include aid to other businesses – “We are looking beyond just restaurants.” The Senators’ effort comes shortly after 83 House members led by Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) sent a letter to House and Senate leadership at the end of December highlighting the fact that many businesses have been left out of existing relief programs and calling on them to “expedite a targeted relief package that funds all previously eligible requests through the RRF [Restaurant Revitalization Fund] and allows small businesses in the fitness, live events, and travel industries to request much-needed federal assistance.”
ASTA is working around the clock to make sure that our members are eligible for any new or expanded grant programs that make it into the bill, with a focus on our preferred approach in the proposed SAVE Act (H.R. 2120) to include agencies in the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. While the fact that small business relief is back in the news is certainly welcome, there are a lot of unanswered questions about this package beyond what makes it in, including which legislative “vehicle” it will be attached to and the extent to which Congressional Republicans are willing to support additional spending on top of the $6 trillion spent on COVID relief and mitigation initiatives in 2020 and 2021.
Regarding the ERTC, we got an unpleasant surprise in November when the new bipartisan infrastructure bill law moved up the credit’s expiration date by one quarter, from December 31 to September 30, 2021. This move was deeply frustrating since PPP funds have long since run dry and many agencies were counting on the ERTC to help them get through the fourth quarter.
This frustration is shared in Congress by those not involved in negotiating the infrastructure bill. For evidence, look to the Employee Retention Tax Credit Reinstatement Act of 2021 (H.R. 6161) to restore the credit in the 4th quarter of 2021, which was introduced last month by Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV) and has quickly grown to 48 bipartisan cosponsors.
We expect an identical Senate bill to be introduced in the next few weeks and have had productive conversations with several Congressional offices on separate legislation to extend the credit into 2022. (As a reminder, you can weigh in on both ERTC and the SAVE Act through our grassroots portal.)
As always, we welcome your support as we fight these fights. In January alone, we had 19 separate calls with House and Senate offices, the majority of which included ASTA member constituents. If you’re a member with a particularly close relationship with a Member of Congress or their staff, let us know. Beyond that, the call to action remains the same – Join-Engage-Give. If you’re not a member of ASTA, please join today. Engage in our grassroots advocacy campaigns at ASTA.org/Advocacy or consider attending ASTA Legislative Day on June 21-22. Members wishing to support the cause financially can make a contribution to our political action committee (“ASTAPAC”) at ASTA.org/Donate.
I can’t guarantee success on the fights described above or on the next big push to modify the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s inbound testing rule. I can however guarantee maximum effort from the ASTA staff and volunteer leadership like our national Board of Directors or Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg and Chris Seddelmeyer, Co-Chairs of our Government & Political Affairs Committee. If everyone reading this joins, engages with, and gives to our national trade association, our chances of success will go through the roof.