The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, May 06, 2020 1:00 am

Charter bus company to take part in rally caravan

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

May typically is peak season for a LaOtto-based motorcoach company.

American Heritage Trails' dozen charter buses should be hauling students on school field trips to Chicago, southern Indiana, the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

“May is the crazy month. We don't do a lot of tours at that time because the buses are in such demand with the schools,” Diane Current, tour coordinator for American Heritage Trails, said Tuesday.

The company's next scheduled trip is to Washington – but for a coronavirus relief rally, not a field trip. American Heritage Trails is among nearly 300 ground transportation companies that plan to send 1,000 vehicles to Motorcoaches Rolling for Awareness on May 13.

The rally caravan has been organized by the trade groups United Motorcoach Association and the American Bus Association. They seek $15 billion in federal aid for their industry to make up for revenue and paychecks lost to state bans on gatherings, including school activities, during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Right now we are not doing any business, just like motorcoach companies across the country,” Current said in a telephone interview.

Rally organizers point out that Congress already has approved $25 billion in aid for commercial airlines and $1 billion for Amtrak, the federally subsidized passenger railroad.

“For some reason, our industry got left behind,” Current said.

“We're going out there to remind Congress and people in general, 'Hey, we've been devastated. Don't forget us.' ”

Current said she and a half-dozen drivers would take an American Heritage Trails charter to the rally caravan. Also scheduled to participate are Cardinal Buses and Jones Travel, both based in Elkhart County. 

Customers of American Heritage Trails began canceling trips in mid-March, Current said. Cancellations included nearly $250,000 worth of business scheduled for May with elementary schools.  

“We knew it was going to be bad,” Current said.

Her company did receive a $125,000 low-interest loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, a coronavirus relief fund for employers with 500 or fewer workers. American Heritage Trails employs 30 people, including two-dozen full- and part-time drivers. Many of the drivers are being given other duties while they are off the road, Current said.

Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., jointly announced Tuesday their proposals for revising the Paycheck Protection Program and introducing another business loan program called the Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards A Recovery in Twenty-twenty, or RESTART, Act.

Young and Bennet called for extending the Paycheck Protection Program period for deploying loans and earning loan forgiveness from eight weeks to 16 weeks for businesses that have experienced revenue decline of at least 25%. Loans are forgiven for employers that retain or restore their workforces at pre-virus levels, but the senators said some employers might be closed or prohibited from operating at full capacity during this eight-week “covered” period.

The senators said RESTART would provide loans to cover six months of payroll, employee benefits and fixed operating expenses for small and mid-sized businesses during the pandemic. A share of the loan would be forgiven based on revenue losses, and the remainder could be repaid over seven years, with no interest payment in the first year and no principal payments in the first two years.

“Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and our goal is to revitalize the economy and get them back to work as quickly as possible,” Young said in a statement.

Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Mike Braun said it is too soon to know whether the Paycheck Protection Program will need funds in addition to the $660 billion it has received from Congress. Through last week, $525 billion had been lent through the program run by Small Business Administration.

“The pace is slowing down enough to where it looks like it could be right,” Braun, R-Ind., said in a phone interview about loan applications.

But he predicted a surge in assistance requests by larger employers if states continue to constrain commercial activities in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some companies “are going to have to flirt with layoffs” and Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, he said.

Braun warned of possible “supply and demand destruction that constitutes irreparable damage. That puts us into a context more like '08 and '09 that in some cases took five, seven, eight years for companies to get back to where they were before” the last recession.

bfrancisco@jg.net


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