THE LATEST ROUND of federal stimulus in response to the COVID-19 economic downturn has been proposed in the House. However, the Democrat’s bill is expected to meet stiff debate from Republicans who call it an “unserious” wish-list of political projects.
The ‘‘Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act’’ is meant to follow and continue the mission of the current “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, & Economic Security Act” and may address some of the concerns the hotel industry has had about that act, particularly the funding and terms for Paycheck Protection Program loans.
More generally, too, many hoteliers were hoping for some other form of stimulus to keep their businesses open. That includes those who have already received PPP loans from the first iteration of the CARES Act, such as Nancy Patel, a Knights Inn owner in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Patel said she was not expecting to get more from the PPP program and believes the current funding there should go to those who have not received anything.
“But, I’m hoping they come out with a stimulus package like the first one. Hopefully they’ll think of something because we’re not going to survive for two months with just a PPP loan, with the restrictions they’ve got,” she said. “And the question of the day is, when is this economy going to get back to how we were doing before. We were expecting a little slowdown. It’s not like this wasn’t coming, but it wasn’t coming like this.”
The current version of the HEROES Act, which is more than 1,800 pages long, includes funding for various federal programs that totals around $3 trillion according to Investopedia.com. It also includes “a number of elements” sought after by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, including improvements to PPP, the association said in a statement that offered only partial endorsement of the bill.
The approved elements include more flexibility in the way PPP funds can be used as well as an extension of the covered period to use loan proceeds. Considering the fact that 70 percent of hotel employees have been laid off or furloughed during the crisis, the aid is badly needed, said AHLA, which plans to release a “Roadmap to Recovery” soon.
“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the leisure and hospitality sector lost 7.7 million jobs in April alone. With the impact to hotels being nine times worse than 9/11, the devastation caused to our industry is staggering and we are truly engaged in a fight for survival,” said Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO. “By expanding the PPP, Congress would help save millions of jobs and support our small business hotel operators who make up more than 61 percent of our industry.”
AAHOA also welcomed the HEROES Act’s corrections to the PPP.
“The changes to the PPP introduced in the House as part of the HEROES Act are critical to ensuring small business owners can effectively employ funds to make payroll and cover necessary operating costs,” said Cecil Staton, AAHOA president and CEO. “The proposed corrections to PPP will help provide small business owners with much needed liquidity, something that we’ve been asking for since the start of this crisis. We hope, as the legislation is debated in Congress, that our leaders will continue to prioritize small businesses and their employees – especially in industries hardest hit by the economic crisis.”
Staton also approved of language in the bill that allows destination marketing organizations to participate in PPP.
“Travel will play an integral part in rebuilding our economy as the nation reopens,” Staton said. “Americans love to travel, and, after spending the better part of the spring in their homes, people are ready to hit the road again.”
But first, the bill must pass through what is sizing up to be a difficult political debate. It’s a debate Rogers predicted during an April 30 webinar.
“Each iteration or each bill that comes forward is becoming extremely difficult to get passed,” he said at that time. “It’s the fourth bill where I believe there’s going to be a lot of discussion. What we’re seeing here, unfortunately, is the politics begin to come into play. There are items and issues being debated in the fourth bill that frankly don’t have a lot to do with recovery.”
Dead on arrival?
House Democrats claim the HEROES Act is all about keeping businesses afloat and people working across the economy. Senate Republicans debate that.
“It continues on the work that we’ve done in a bipartisan way in the first four packages that have passed the House,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in an interview, the transcript of which is on her website. “That is investing in state and local government, which is carrying a big brunt of the coronavirus crisis. It also invests in testing, testing, testing, which is the key to opening up our economy, and it talks about money in the pockets of the American people, whether that’s direct payments, Unemployment Insurance, PPP loans, any initiatives that puts money in circulation, which we believe not only helps those people but are stimulus to the economy.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, said in a statement the bill is stuffed with unnecessary items, calling it a “seasonal catalog of left-wing oddities.” In particular, McConnell said the HEROES Act would provide money to illegal aliens and cannabis companies.
“The Speaker’s bill also tries to use the virus as cover to implement sweeping changes to election laws that Democrats have wanted for years — like forcing every state to embrace California’s sketchy ‘ballot harvesting,’ whether they want to or not,” McConnell said. “This is a totally unserious effort. It’s a Democratic wish list.”