Posted: April 23, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic persists, Congress continues to discuss additional measures to cope with the impacts. This week the Senate and House are moving a bill to increase the funds available for the Personal Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans by $484 billion. They are already beginning to discuss a CARES II stimulus package, which may include infrastructure as well as state and local government support. Additionally, there is discussion of another relief bill, more regulatory in nature. AO will continue to advocate for its suite of policy targets through these upcoming opportunities:
Improving the Payroll Protection Program for seasonal operators
The dates that the CARES Act uses to calculate PPP loans for seasonal operators do not work well for some outfitters. The loan amount is based on a calculation of the average monthly payroll payments during one of the following options: previous 12-months, January-February 29, 2020 or February 15- June 30, 2019. AO is asking that the calculation be based on any 12-week period chosen by the business.
Regulatory Flexibility and Permit Fee Relief
AO and partners with the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable are asking congress to grant fee waivers for a finite period for concessions and special recreation permit holders who are unable to operate, coupled with a supplemental appropriation for agencies to make up for the shortfall. Also, AO is pushing language to grant agencies regulatory flexibility when working with special recreation permit and concessions holders, to give operators a chance to recover by relaxing some operational constraints.
Public Lands Closures
In many cases public land agencies’ responses to state standards are far more severe than state or federal standards, with some closing trails, or entire forests, or entire operating seasons. AO is encouraging agencies to revisit extended closure decisions, especially as COVID-19 restrictions begin to relax.
Expanding the Trails Stewardship Program
America Outdoors is supporting an effort to expand the Trails Stewardship program and put more operators to work taking care of the Forest Service’s significant maintenance backlog. Senator Daines (R-MT) announced his intent to support this proposal on April 16, 2020. Our appreciation goes out to the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association and Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association who have spearheaded this initiative.
A future Coronavirus relief bill may provide some stimulus and an opportunity to address infrastructure needs on public lands. AO is reaching out to state associations and individual operators to build a priority list of infrastructure projects, and working with the agencies to get buy-in. If you have a project you would like to see on the AO priority list, reach out to email@example.com.
In Wyoming, legislators are contemplating a bill that will protect outdoor recreation providers from Covid-19 related claims of gross negligence that may arise from operating during the epidemic. Even with sound operating procedures in place, the potential around this hypothetical threat is relatively unknown.
In several states, legislatures are considering bills that would compel insurance companies to honor business interruption clauses in their policies. Few if any businesses have been able to file successfully under this clause since the pandemic began.
States will also be prioritizing distribution of federal funds to sectors that need it most. Operators who didn’t fit well into federal stimulus packages may have an opportunity closer to home. Outdoor recreation offices, in states that have them, are proving to be helpful advocates in this effort.