6 ways the new COVID-19 relief bill impacts the travel industry

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After months of wrangling in Congress, President Donald Trump signed a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill Dec. 27 that included $900 billion in COVID-19 relief to offer more help to citizens and businesses as the pandemic rages on. Tucked into that bill were measures designed to help the travel industry, which has been decimated as global travel plummeted in 2020.

Part of the $2 trillion CARES Act Congress passed in March 2020 included the Payroll Support Program, which gave airlines $25 billion to keep them afloat during pandemic-related shutdowns, but that ran out Sept. 30. As a result, carriers were forced to lay off more than 35,000 workers as passenger numbers plummeted. And airline chiefs pushed Congress to provide more relief to the industry.

They got their wish with the signing of a second relief bill. Below we highlight six travel-friendly measures included in the new spending package.

Payroll protection

The bill extended payroll protections to aviation workers at a cost of $15 billion. In return, airlines are required to bring back furloughed workers and keep them on the payroll until March 31, 2021. Southwest Airlines, which had sent out layoff notices, will now avoid having to make the first job cuts and pay cuts in its 49-year history, said CEO Gary Kelly in a statement. He added he also didn’t “anticipate the need to conduct any furloughs or pay cuts next year.”

Airline contractors also received $1 billion under the measure for their workers.

Related: Should Congress dole out more money for airline employees? The case for and against

airports

Airports and their concessionaires received $2 billion in relief. With far fewer passengers spending money in airport terminals, hundreds of retail, food and service businesses have been forced to close. U.S. airports are facing at least $14 billion in losses because of the global health pandemic, according to trade group Airports Council International – North America.

Amtrak

The passenger rail company received $1 billion in the package. It was needed, since Amtrak ridership nose-dived, causing major service cuts and more than $800 million in losses for the country’s already struggling national rail service. Amtrak already received $1 billion in CARES Act funding. It is also requesting $4.9 billion to retain service and another $5.2 billion for construction and capital investment in the 2021 federal budget.

Video: Congress easily passes $2.3 trillion relief and funding bill (NBC News)

  • Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: At the 11th hour, President Trump threatened to veto the COVID-19 relief bill that Congress scrambled to push through before Christmas, demanding bigger stimulus checks, while also launching a pre-holiday pardoning spree of some controversial figures. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports for TODAY from the White House.

    Trump threatens to veto COVID-19 relief bill, issues controversial pardons

    NBC News Logo

    NBC News

  • a group of people waiting for their luggage at an airport: With hospitals already filled to the brim, travel is hitting a holiday season high, causing major concern for health officials both in the U.S. and abroad. Further complicating things: a huge winter storm. NBC’s Blayne Alexander reports for TODAY from Atlanta.

    Travel hits holiday season high amid crowded hospitals, winter storm

    NBC News Logo

    NBC News

  • Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: After staying silent throughout negotiations, Trump suddenly blindsided Republicans calling for more relief money for Americans in the aid bill just passed by Congress. Hans Nichols of Axios joins to discuss.

    Trump blindsides GOP with demand for more Covid relief aid

    NBC News Logo

    NBC News

  • a person standing in front of a crowd: New York Times media columnist Ben Smith discusses his reporting on voting machine companies Smartmatic and Dominion threatening conservative media companies with defamation lawsuits, causing some shows to conduct damage control

    Voting machine companies threaten right-wing media companies with legal action

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  • a person posing for the camera: Anjanette Young, who was handcuffed by the Chicago Police during a wrongful house raid, says that she wants to see accountability for what happened:

    Anjanette Young on wrongful police house raid: ‘They didn’t care about what was happening to me’

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  • a screenshot of a person: The president held a meeting at the White House on Friday evening in which he discussed naming appellate lawyer Sidney Powell, a vocal proponent of many conspiracy theories, as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud in the election.

    Trump discussed naming Sidney Powell special counsel

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    NBC News

  • a group of people posing for the camera: Congress overwhelmingly voted Monday to pass a massive Covid-19 relief package and government funding bill, its second effort this year to bring much-needed aid to Americans struggling during the pandemic.

    Congress easily passes $2.3 trillion relief and funding bill

    NBC News Logo

    NBC News

  • a close up of Kasie Hunt and woman posing for a photo: Katie Hill left the Capitol under scandal. She discusses her new book and why women will continue to face unequal expectations so long as there’s not equal representation in the halls of power.

    Fmr. Rep Hill: No plans to run for office, but ‘Literally everything has been exposed, including my naked pictures, not through my choice’

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  • Joe Biden, Barack Obama are posing for a picture: Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and former Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Aubrey Sarvis discuss the 10th anniversary of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

    Marking 10th anniversary of Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal

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    NBC News

  • Barack Obama wearing a suit and tie: On December 22, 2010, President Obama signed a law repealing the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military.

    2010: Obama signs repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

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  • a person wearing a hat and glasses posing for the camera: At least 13 people have died from carbon monoxide in federally subsidized housing since 2003, according to an NBC News investigation, but HUD does not currently require working carbon monoxide detectors in public housing. This is the story of HUD residents Anthony and Gwendolyn Fleming, from Wayne, Michigan, who died in February 2019, and their daughters, who are fighting for justice.

    Silent killer: the rising toll of carbon monoxide in public housing

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  • Pramila Jayapal standing in front of a book shelf: Rep. Pramila Jayapal talks with Rachel Maddow about what she has learned from speaking with the lawyers for

    Jayapal: 'At least 17 to 18 women' in ICE detention underwent needless medical procedures

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  • a man looking at the camera: In a show of support for the coronavirus vaccine, President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden received the first dose in Delaware on Monday.

    Bidens get Covid-19 vaccine

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  • a sign on the side of a road: NBC News' Deepa Shivaram reports on struggles rural America may have finding health care during the coronavirus pandemic, from distant drives to the nearest hospital to slow broadband that creates complications for telehealth appointments with doctors.

    70 miles to a hospital and slow internet: Challenges rural America faces in a pandemic

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  • a cat sitting in a dark room: Police bodycam video shows the moment Texas police officer Jose Santos’ fatally shot Joshua Feast in the back. Police say Feast had been a person of interest in shootings in the area.

    Video shows officer fatally shoot man in the back while fleeing

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  • a person standing in front of a building: The aid passed by Congress during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak is set to expire at the end of the year. As Congress prepares to vote on a new relief package Sunday, who would be helped by the legislation, and why has it taken elected officials so long to address the ongoing crisis? NBC’s Garrett Haake takes a closer look in this week’s Sunday Focus.

    Why has Congress taken so long to pass additional coronavirus aid?

    NBC News Logo

    NBC News

  • Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: At the 11th hour, President Trump threatened to veto the COVID-19 relief bill that Congress scrambled to push through before Christmas, demanding bigger stimulus checks, while also launching a pre-holiday pardoning spree of some controversial figures. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports for TODAY from the White House.
    Trump threatens to veto COVID-19 relief bill, issues controversial pardons
    At the 11th hour, President Trump threatened to veto the COVID-19 relief bill that Congress scrambled to push through before Christmas, demanding bigger stimulus checks, while also launching a pre-holiday pardoning spree of some controversial figures. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports for TODAY from the White House.

    NBC News Logo
    NBC News

  • a group of people waiting for their luggage at an airport: With hospitals already filled to the brim, travel is hitting a holiday season high, causing major concern for health officials both in the U.S. and abroad. Further complicating things: a huge winter storm. NBC’s Blayne Alexander reports for TODAY from Atlanta.
    Travel hits holiday season high amid crowded hospitals, winter storm
    With hospitals already filled to the brim, travel is hitting a holiday season high, causing major concern for health officials both in the U.S. and abroad. Further complicating things: a huge winter storm. NBC’s Blayne Alexander reports for TODAY from Atlanta.

    NBC News Logo
    NBC News

  • Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: After staying silent throughout negotiations, Trump suddenly blindsided Republicans calling for more relief money for Americans in the aid bill just passed by Congress. Hans Nichols of Axios joins to discuss.
    Trump blindsides GOP with demand for more Covid relief aid
    After staying silent throughout negotiations, Trump suddenly blindsided Republicans calling for more relief money for Americans in the aid bill just passed by Congress. Hans Nichols of Axios joins to discuss.

    NBC News Logo
    NBC News

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Related: I traveled on Amtrak during the pandemic — here are 5 things that have changed

Hotels

A November survey of American Hotel & Lodging Association members found that seven in 10 hoteliers said they won’t make it another six months without more financial relief from Congress. Without further government assistance (i.e., second Paycheck Protection Program loan, expansion of the Main Street Lending Program), nearly half of respondents indicated they would be forced to close hotels.

While the new COVID-19 relief law did not include direct aid to hotels, it did include $325 billion for small businesses, including nearly $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans. While large hospitality companies such as Marriott International and Hilton Hotels & Resorts don’t qualify for these loans, independent businesses that operate under these brands can apply for funds.

Related: As CARES Act confusion reigns, small businesses lose

Aircraft safety

The FAA received $275 million over five years to beef up its aircraft certification process in the wake of the Boeing 737 MAX grounding. The agency also received $27 million a year through fiscal year 2023 to recruit and retain engineers, safety inspectors, human factors specialists and scientific and technical advisors, among others.

COVID-19 vaccines

Efforts to get COVID-19 vaccines distributed received $69 billion in aid. That includes more than $30 billion to procure vaccines and treatments, distribution funds for states and a strategic stockpile. It also provides $22 billion for testing, tracing and mitigation and $9 billion for health care providers.

Featured photo courtesy of American Airlines

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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