Congress and the White House Fail to Reach a Deal on COVID-19 Relief Bill
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, NATCA has been seeking protections for essential aviation workers. Leading up to the August recess, congressional leadership and the White House had been negotiating a new COVID-19 relief bill. However, negotiations stalled, and a consensus was not reached due to a disagreement over items such as unemployment benefits and state and local government aid. Lawmakers are back in their home states and districts for the month of August, and it is unclear if negotiators will return to the table this month.
Meanwhile, just as air traffic starts to ramp up, a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases has occurred within our workforce: from June 1 through July, the total number of positive cases among air traffic controllers has increased at an alarming rate of almost 295%. The health and safety of NATCA’s members is critical in order to ensure a safe and efficient National Airspace System (NAS). NATCA’s senior leadership and the FAA continue to collaborate on ways to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the NAS and the air traffic controller workforce.
Throughout negotiations on a COVID-19 relief bill, NATCA’s Government Affairs staff has been advocating for legislation to ensure the safest possible working conditions for air traffic controllers and other essential aviation safety professionals. In May, the House introduced and passed a bill (H.R. 6800, “the HEROES Act,” also known as “CARES 2.0”). The proposal contains many provisions that would help protect NATCA’s members during the pandemic. However, this legislation has not advanced beyond the House and, as mentioned above, a lack of bipartisan agreement between Congress and White House has delayed enactment of any additional COVID-19 relief legislation.
That’s why NATCA launched an email campaign to all U.S. senators in July urging them to protect air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals in any relief legislation passed in the chamber. The email campaign was far-reaching in the Senate: more than 5,000 participants sent over 11,000 emails to all senate offices. In these emails, NATCA members, friends, and family strongly urged senators to support important provisions, including those already included in the House-passed HEROES Act, in any COVID relief bill. Those provisions include:
- A fix for the Airport and Airway Trust Fund;
- Additional funding for the FAA to respond to COVID-19;
- Hazard Pay Differential for FAA employees and other essential federal employees;
- Protection for controllers’ retirement;
- A mandate for DOT to develop a National Aviation Preparedness Plan;
- Personal Protective Equipment; and
- An OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard
With each day, there is increasing doubt whether agreement on a broad COVID-19 relief bill is possible at this point in negotiations. Lack of agreement would negatively impact the ability to achieve provisions such as those outlined above. However, the situation remains fluid and NATCA continues to fight on behalf of our members to advocate for these critical priorities.