With help from Brianna Gurciullo and Tanya Snyder
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— Airlines are close to getting what they’ve asked the government for to stay intact and keep their workers on as global travel falls to unprecedented levels.
— Amtrak and transit systems around the country will also get an infusion of cash as part of the tentative deal.
— The State Department was too slow to ramp up its efforts to bring home stranded Americans, contributing to chaos and confusion for thousands.
IT’S THURSDAY: Thanks for tuning in to POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Get in touch with tips and feedback at [email protected] or @samjmintz.
“Right away, right away, baby / Just a girl undercover and a boy with the getaway / You and me, right away, baby / We were automatically in love.”
LISTEN HERE: Follow MT’s playlist on Spotify. What better way to start your day than with songs (picked by us and readers) about roads, railways, rivers and runways?
CONGRESS, WHITE HOUSE NEAR FINAL DEAL THAT WOULD RELIEVE TRANSPORTATION INDUSTRIES: With the caveat that nothing’s fully final until President Donald Trump gets out the fancy pens, Senate leaders agreed on a deal early Wednesday that would inject billions of dollars into a number of reeling transportation industries. Check out the final text of the bill, H.R. 748 (116), or read on for our breakdown:
Aid for airlines was a sticking point until the end, but the final agreement could make everyone happy. There’s $29 billion in grants for airlines to use for paying employees, plus $3 billion for contractors, and $29 billion available for loans and loan guarantees to airlines, repair stations and ticket agents. So, airlines got the general amounts they wanted and the combination of grants and loans they wanted. The grants would have to be used to bolster payrolls, meeting the pleas of aviation industry unions.
The strings: To qualify for the grants, airlines and contractors must agree to “refrain from conducting involuntary furloughs or reducing pay rates and benefits” through September. And loan agreements must stipulate that the company will “maintain its employment levels as of March 24, 2020, to the extent practicable” and won’t cut its workforce by more than 10 percent, at least until the end of September. Airlines that receive grants or loans would also face limits on executives’ compensation and stock buybacks.
Airports also got the $10 billion in aid they had requested, with an employee retention requirement attached.
The text makes no mention of embattled aircraft manufacturer Boeing, but it does include $17 billion for loans to “businesses critical to maintaining national security.” The Washington Post reported that at least some of the money is meant to benefit Boeing.
TO THE RESCUE FOR AMTRAK, TRANSIT: The agreement includes more than $1 billion for Amtrak to help it stay afloat amid plummeting ridership and revenue. Public transit also gets a rescue fund: $25 billion to the FTA for grants that must be apportioned within a week of enactment.
NO HELP FOR CRUISES: Despite Trump’s repeated claims that the “great and important” cruise industry is a “prime candidate” for federal help, the legislation does not contain any provisions that would directly aid them.
IN TOTAL: If you add in money being sent to transportation agencies to boost their operations, there’s around $114 billion in the bill for transportation, according to the Eno Center’s Jeff Davis.
Where the bill stands: The Senate passed 96-0 the mammoth stimulus measure late Wednesday. The bill now heads to the House where passage is expected on Friday.
WHAT MICROMOBILITY WANTS: The latest industry ask this week came from two scooter companies, Bird and Lime, which sent around a document laying out their contributions to the economy and what they need to keep up the momentum that had been building before the pandemic sent it all crashing down.
In the short term, the companies are asking for a delay of employer payroll taxes, and emergency relief through loans and loan guarantees. “As America begins its recovery, Bird, Lime and their employees can help cities move again with … assistance targeted towards companies with clean micromobility at the core of their business,” they wrote.
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HOW STATE FAILED STRANDED AMERICANS: The State Department’s efforts to fly home stranded Americans abroad as the coronavirus pandemic hit were too slow to ramp up — that’s according to lawmakers, former State officials and people stuck overseas who spoke to POLITICO in a new story from your host.
While those efforts have intensified, thousands of Americans remain trapped in foreign countries, and others who were able to get out had to turn to risky border crossings into Mexico or an unconventional flight on a private security firm’s chartered jet.
“If this administration, including Secretary Pompeo and his senior leadership team, had taken the coronavirus threat seriously and planned ahead, we may have been able to avoid some of the confusion and chaos Americans abroad encountered,” said Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The State Department said Wednesday evening that there are now more than 50,000 Americans abroad asking for help to get home.
ROLLING UP THE WELCOME MAT: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ move to order people from the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area to quarantine for 14 days upon entering the state by air could end up in court sooner than later. There’s a legal right to travel and a constitutional right to interstate commerce. As of Wednesday, there were 26,000 cases of coronavirus in New York and 1,300 in Florida. Our Tanya Snyder pitched in with POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian on this story.
UP NORTH: Canada is tightening its borders as the coronavirus pandemic surges, former MT team member Lauren Gardner reports. Among other things, most people entering the country after Wednesday will be legally required to enter quarantine for two weeks. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has signaled that he’s open to restrict the border further if the U.S. becomes the new epicenter of Covid-19.
In the U.S., the number of planes flying continues to shrink. A staggering 279,018 travelers passed through TSA checkpoints on Tuesday, according to the agency’s latest data. That’s compared with 2,151,913 on the corresponding weekday a year ago.
WHO’S ESSENTIAL? More than 110 industry groups representing sectors from candy to wine to manufacturing are asking the White House, governors and local officials to coordinate on decisions about essential operations so they can continue transportation of goods and employees, Anthony Adragna reported for Pros. Specifically, he writes, the groups want states to adopt DHS’ definition of “critical infrastructure,” promise not to erect “any artificial barriers” to the transportation of products and ensure that local restrictions such as curfews “do not impede a healthy workforce from getting to and from manufacturing facilities and retailers.”
RAIL LABOR CALLS FOR BETTER WORKER PROTECTIONS AGAINST COVID: Rail unions want stronger protections for employees working on trains, they said in a request to regulators at the FRA this week. According to Progressive Railroading, The SMART Transportation Division and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen asked that railroads take “immediate and appropriate precautions to mitigate against the spread of the virus amongst their workforces and to minimize the exposure of their employees to the virus during the performance of their duties.”
— “Delivery drivers face pandemic without sick pay, insurance, sanitizer.” Reuters.
— “Coronavirus wreaks growing damage on Italian shipping, supply chains.” Wall Street Journal.
— “Tourists stranded in the Philippines join calls for British repatriation flights.” The Telegraph.
— “Desperate airlines turn to European governments for support.” Bloomberg.
— “On the road through a pandemic, some truckers fear for their lives.” Reuters.
DOT appropriations run out in 187 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,284 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 187 days.