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Bipartisan letter urges extension of airline payroll support

The current supports expire Sept. 30 and airlines are already planning to lay off thousands of workers

House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.
House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bipartisan group of House members is beginning to coalesce around a plan to extend aid to airline employees through March 31 of next year.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., and Subcommittee on Aviation Chairman Rick Larsen, D-Wash., are spearheading circulation of a letter to colleagues that includes a draft letter to House and Senate leadership seeking support to extend the $32 billion Payroll Support Program to keep airline employees on the payroll.

Some $25 billion of that aid was for passenger airlines; the rest went to cargo airlines and contractors. In all, 950,000 employees received the aid. The grants expire Sept. 30.

The letter comes in the wake of the first round of furlough notices from two airlines anticipating the end of the Payroll Support Program approved in March as part of the roughly $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. Other airlines have said they may have to follow suit.

[As payroll support nears an end, airline unions seek renewal]

The “Dear Colleague” letter is notable because it includes members of both parties. Among the early signers is Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., and John Katko, R-N.Y., both members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“With the resurgence of COVID-19 in several States across the country and a vaccine for the virus yet to be developed, passenger demand for air travel will not recover before the PSP expires on September 30,” the draft letter to congressional leadership reads. “And without an extension of the PSP before then, hundreds of thousands of airline workers will be fired or furloughed on October 1.”

On Wednesday, American Airlines announced it would send 25,000 notices of potential furloughs to frontline workers. That news followed United Airlines’ decision to send 36,000 furlough notices last week — a figure representing about 40 percent of its workforce.

Airlines have seen a roughly 95 percent drop in traffic from April 2019 to April 2020, according to industry statistics and data from the Transportation Security Administration. 

“When we passed the CARES Act in March, there was an expectation that we would see a significant recovery in U.S. aviation by the fall,” lawmakers wrote to colleagues. “This is no longer the case.”

Other lawmakers backing the plan include Reps. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.

The letter also comes after two labor unions — the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA — have called on Congress to consider a second round of airline aid.

While the Trump administration has not specifically called for an extension of the program, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he considers it to be one of the more successful elements of the government reaction to the pandemic. Interviewed last week on CNBC, he reiterated the need to help airlines as they continue to struggle, saying, “they’re going to need more help.”

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