It’s been over 12 weeks since former President Donald Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and within it the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act. Yet school bus contractors and motorcoach operators are still waiting for their shares of $2 billion authorized by Congress.
A coalition of transportation companies, which include ferry operators, originally sought $8 billion in relief. The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) noted on Monday that the school bus contractors “vigorously advocated for this aid since the measure was introduced” last May, when the CERTS Act was introduced. NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn calculated that school bus operators alone have now lost nearly $8 billion in revenue over the past year.
On Monday, Macysyn asked Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a letter to release details on the grant program. He added that while recent meetings with her agency have been encouraging, operators need the money now. At this report, a U.S. Treasury Department website for the CERTS program provided only a brief summary, along with a statement to check back regularly for updates.
“At this stage, we emphasize that as CERTS continues to be developed, it is imperative that the pillars of the program be the efficient and equitable distribution of relief funds. COVID-19 affected all aspects of our industry similarly, and we look forward to the release of these funds as authorized by Congress as soon as possible,” he continued. “I cannot emphasize enough how important the bridge that CERTS provides is a critical link in the return to school process being developed at the state and national levels.”
Yellen has received similar letters over the past month from the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) and the larger CERTS Coalition as well as an increasing number of congressional members. Last Thursday, Rep. Darrin LaHood, who introduced the CERTS Act, spearheaded a letter to Yellen from over 70 colleagues in the House.
“To ensure that these transportation service providers are ready and available for Americans once the economy [fully] reopens, emergency funding for these industries is necessary,” he wrote. “That is why the U.S. Department of Treasury must move as quickly as possible to provide financial assistance, as authorized by Congress, to these companies that desperately need to keep their employees on payroll and cover increased operating costs.”
That letter came after 29 senators sent a similar request to Yellen last month.
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Meanwhile, Macysyn explained to Yellen that NSTA member companies have faced major challenges in maintaining the student transportation system for the past year, due to state-mandated school closures.
“This affected not only revenue from the home-to-school contracts of our members, but additional revenue derived from extra-curricular, sports, field trips and charter activities was also fully eliminated,” he noted.
Earlier this month, Ken Presley, the vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs for the UMA, said anxiety was spreading among bus operators amid continued silence from the U.S. Department of Treasury on CERTS Act details.
In an email to members on March 4, Presley commented that Polly Trottenberg, the new deputy secretary at the Treasury Department, advised UMA to “hold tight and be patient.” And while meetings between transportation association representatives and the federal government continue, no formal announcement on the grant program has been made.
Two emails sent by School Transportation News to the Treasury Department within the past week seeking a status report on the release of grant program details have yet to be answered at this report.