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— The Trump administration is supposed to start sending checks to airlines today to help them maintain their payrolls, as questions remain about what the government will ask for in return.
— Cruise companies are in crisis, but it’s a situation largely of their own making.
— President Donald Trump and lawmakers are sending mixed messages about whether infrastructure will be part of the next coronavirus response package.
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WHAT’S NEXT FOR AIRLINE AID: Today is the deadline for the government to start paying out worker-support grants to airlines under the recently enacted CARES Act, H.R. 748 (116).
Delta Air Lines, United and American each confirmed to POLITICO they met a Friday deadline to apply for the first round of aid; other airlines will likely join them.
A big unanswered question: What will the government ask for in return? The language in the law is hedged: The government “may” receive stock, warrants or other financial instruments in exchange for the payroll grants, but it’s up to the Treasury Secretary to determine what constitutes “appropriate compensation.” The application form sent to airlines asked them to “identify financial instruments” and their value.
Approved airlines will receive grants equal to the compensation they paid employees between April 1 and Sept. 30 last year.
Several top Democrats wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over the weekend urging the Trump administration not to give the aid overly restrictive terms, according to The New York Times. “Assistance must not come with unreasonable conditions that would force an employer to choose bankruptcy instead of providing payroll grants to its workers,” wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
By the way: There’s an ongoing debate about DOT’s proposed minimum services conditions requiring airlines to keep flying to certain points if they receive government aid. Smaller and low-cost carriers are worried the requirements will hurt them disproportionately and force them to fly routes with little to no demand, even if the planes are empty, your host reports.
YES TO REFUNDS: DOT warned airlines on Friday that it will step up enforcement against airlines that fail to give cash refunds for cancellations during the pandemic, Pro’s Anthony Adragna reports. “Airlines’ obligation to refund passengers for cancelled or significantly delayed flights remains unchanged,” the agency wrote. The notice said it would “provide carriers an opportunity to become compliant,” including notifying passengers they qualify for refunds, and updating and reviewing refund policies. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a Thursday radio interview it was “against departmental policy” for carriers not to offer refunds.
Also in that interview: Chao came out against a domestic shutdown of air travel, which the Trump administration has been weighing. “The airline companies are hurting badly, but there are still people who need to get from, for example, New York to California. They can’t spend three days driving from New York to California,” Chao said. “They need to have this essential service available.”
A PREDICAMENT OF THEIR OWN MAKING: As cruise companies suffer through an unprecedented financial blow, they at least partly have themselves to blame, report our Tanya Snyder and Anthony. “Even though Americans represent a disproportionate share of their business, most cruise lines are incorporated in other countries with lower taxes and lax regulatory enforcement, a system that has benefited their bottom lines for decades,” the story reads. Now that cruise lines are asking for help, they’re finding fierce bipartisan opposition from Congress.
The industry could also be in for a long-term slide, even once the coronavirus pandemic winds down. “The problem is if you ask anybody, ‘Would you think of going on a cruise?’ most people would say no,” said Christopher Muller, a professor at Boston University’s School of Hospitality. “Nobody wants to be trapped on a zombie death prison.”
What policymakers and pundits want: One, for the companies to consider registering in the U.S. And second, for some humility. “Frankly, I’d like a little shame,” said CNBC host Jim Cramer last week. “What did you think was going to happen?”
WILL THEY OR WON’T THEY? Congress and the White House spent the end of last week offering up a series of mixed messages about whether infrastructure will be part of the next coronavirus response package. Earlier in the week, House Democrats said they wanted to include a climate-heavy infrastructure plan they had outlined months ago — a push that quickly met Republican resistance.
Perhaps due to that reluctance, Pelosi on Friday then indicated that her infrastructure goals may have to wait for a bill “beyond this.” But a few hours later, Trump declared, “We’ll be looking at an infrastructure package for our country, which will be so important,” according to the White House pool — leaving us reporters trying to follow the developments shrugging in exasperation. On Sunday, Trump repeated the sentiment during the White House’s coronavirus task force briefing.
TSA LOSES ONE OF ITS OWN TO COVID: A TSA employee died after being infected by the coronavirus last Thursday. Francis Boccabella III, a 39-year-old canine handler at Newark Liberty International Airport, was the first TSA worker to die from the virus, which has been a major risk for the agency’s frontline workers. “His passing represents a personal loss to all of us who knew him and cherished both his friendship and professionalism,” the agency said in a statement on Friday.
TRANSIT UNIONS WARN OF ‘AGGRESSIVE ACTION’: Two national transit worker unions are teaming up to pressure transit agencies that they say are failing to protect employees, including by not providing them with masks and gloves. The Transit Workers Union of America and the Amalgamated Transit Union, which combined represent more than 330,000 workers in the U.S., are also calling for regular disinfections, enforced rear door boarding and “pandemic leave” policies. “We are prepared to take whatever aggressive action is necessary in order to protect our members and their families,” said ATU President John Costa.
— “Australian police launch criminal probe over coronavirus outbreak on cruise ship.” Wall Street Journal.
— “France turns to speedy trains to catch up in virus response.” Associated Press.
— “United slashes New York-area flights due to coronavirus.” Reuters.
— “Rules for using the sidewalk during the coronavirus.” New York Times (Opinion).
— “Cash crunch pits airlines against customers in refund spats.” Bloomberg.
DOT appropriations run out in 176 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,273 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 176 days.