Gyms, Hotels, Bus Companies Make Last-Ditch Plea for Aid
By Karl Evers-Hillstrom
July 28, 2021
Industries that were battered by the pandemic but missed out on federal relief are now mounting a last-minute push for government funding as lawmakers prepare two massive spending packages.
Congress has appropriated trillions of dollars in COVID-19 relief since the pandemic began, but only airlines, hospitals and a few other industries promptly received aid. And it wasn’t until just recently that restaurants, bars, movie theaters and live music venues began receiving billions in federal funding after an extended delay.
That leaves gym owners, hoteliers and bus companies among those still seeking an injection of government cash. Industry groups see President Biden’s infrastructure spending proposals as some of the few remaining avenues to win over Congress.
The recent surge in leisure travel but lack of business travel has created an uneven recovery for companies in the travel and tourism industries.
Peter Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association, said the bus industry is still only operating at around 50 percent capacity. Commuter buses in large cities remain largely empty as workers stay home.
Congress provided $2 billion for bus and motorcoach operators in the December stimulus package. But the Treasury Department has yet to distribute those funds, creating issues for the industry’s ask for an additional $8 billion in assistance.
“The biggest single stumbling block with members of Congress is that they want to see us spend the money first,” Pantuso said. “It’s a Catch-22 situation where until the Treasury got the program up, we weren’t able to spend that money.”
Last year, two-thirds of House and Senate lawmakers co-sponsored a bill that would provide $10 billion for buses, but that figure got reduced in the final relief package. Pantuso wants lawmakers to make up the difference in Democrats’ reconciliation bill.
“The window is really closing,” he said. “This is our opportunity if we’re going to get it done.”