Congress passes COVID-19 relief bill, but Trump threatens veto

The bill contains PPP funding and more, but the president wants higher payments to individual Americans

Congress passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill that contains several items the hospitality industry has pressed for over the past months of the pandemic. However, President Trump has threatened to veto the bill if stimulus payments to individuals are not increased from $600 to $2,000.

A $900 BILLION COVID-19 relief bill has passed in Congress and hotel associations say it contains funding desperately needed by the industry. However, Tuesday evening President Donald Trump cast doubt on whether he would sign the bill.

The Senate and House both passed the bill Monday, bringing to around $3 trillion the total amount of aid the federal government has issued during the pandemic, according to the Tax Foundation. The bill itself is attached to a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill and will include payments to qualified individuals of up to $600 each along with expanded unemployment benefits.

For hotels and other businesses, the relief bill offers $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, $20 billion for new economic injury disaster loan program grants and extension and expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit through July 1, 2021, while increasing the refundable payroll tax credit from a maximum of $5,000 to $14,000.

President Trump was expected to sign the bill into law, but instead Tuesday night he took to Twitter to threaten to veto it.

“The bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated,” Trump said. “It really is a disgrace.”

He went on to list a series of items supposedly included in the omnibus bill with the implication that they represented waste, including millions of dollars in foreign aid, money for federal facilities such as the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Museum that are currently closed and more. He also said the bill would give more money to undocumented workers than Americans.

Trump insisted that Congress increase the amount of the stimulus payments to individuals to $2,000 each, or $4,000 for couples. He also wanted an extension of a tax deduction included for restaurants that would otherwise sunset in two years.

“Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists, and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it,” the president said. “I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple. I’m also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package.”

While the package is only a short-term solution and more will be needed soon in the beginning of the new year, AAHOA, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the U.S. Travel Association endorsed it. The associations said the bill would save many hotels from having to shut down by the end of the year.

“For hoteliers, the most significant components in this package include a second round of PPP funding to help keep employees on payroll during the most difficult time of year,” said Cecil Staton, AAHOA president and CEO. “We also particularly appreciate that congressional leaders understood the unique challenges faced by hoteliers and provided an increase in the PPP loan amounts to our industry. In addition to addressing payroll challenges, this bill also includes critical banking relief to enable hoteliers to defer mortgage payments for the near term.”

Staton also cited the year-long extension for troubled debt restructuring and the EIDL program funding as vital to preventing hotel closings and foreclosures.

“In these most challenging times for hotels in our nation’s history, we appreciate the bipartisanship displayed by congressional leadership and members across the country. We welcome this spirit to continue into the new year,” Staton said. “Today is a big step in the right direction to helping in the survival of the lodging industry. We look forward to continuing this engagement to ensure our voices continued to be heard.”

Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO, cited the same elements of the bill in his statement.

“This short-term relief package is a vital step toward helping the hotel industry survive this crisis. The proposed measure provides temporary relief over the next few months and will help thousands of hotels stay open and retain employees,” he said. “We look forward to working with Congress and the new administration on a longer-term stimulus package that will ensure our industry survives and is well positioned to help the country recover economically once the public health threat subsides.”

USTA, which has issued statements pressing for the relief bill recently, also welcomed the bipartisan agreement and passage of the bill.

“Seeing this bill make it across the finish line is a huge relief after months of struggle,” said Roger Dow USTA president and CEO. “This legislation is a lifeline for businesses and workers who have been hanging on by a thread. More than four million travel jobs have been lost this year, and this package includes long-needed provisions to help employers keep their lights on—a second draw on PPP funds for the hardest-hit businesses, eligibility for non-profit destination marketing organizations, assistance to airports and concessionaires as well as airlines, and enhancements to the Employee Retention Tax Credit, among many others.”