The leading industry trade group representing independent owner operators is expressing its anger over the lack of anything specifically tailored to them in the recent pandemic stimulus bill.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association released a statement Wednesday with the headline “Thanks for nothing, Congress!” It decried the lack of anything specifically tailored to independent truck drivers.
Independent owner operators can receive a new round of funding under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), even if they got money in the first round. However, they and larger fleets will need to show that they have suffered an economic downturn, which might be a challenge in such a strong trucking year.
The detailed list of recipients of the first round of PPP loans, released in early December after court decisions compelled the Small Business Administration to do so, showed many one-person companies in the truckload carrier sector did receive money under the PPP to keep workers employed.
Data from two randomly-chosen states, Georgia and Florida, reveals that more than 2,100 companies from three key NAICS categories in those two combined states listed a single employee as their workforce; that’s two states out of 50. The vast majority of the recipients among those 2,100-plus were in NAICS code 484121, which is for truckload carriers.
“The PPP was not specific to trucking and any borrower was at the mercy of the lender as to whether they would get it,” OOIDA spokeswoman Norita Taylor said when asked whether the organization viewed the renewed and expanded PPP as a benefit to the industry.
But OOIDA is correct that there was nothing specifically for truckers in the bill, except for one very tailored exception for drivers that haul timber.
For the broader trucking industry, OOIDA quoted its executive director Lewie Pugh in laying out what it had hoped for. “They could have suspended the federal fuel tax, or the heavy-vehicle use tax, or even the Unified Carrier Registration tax to help truckers’ cash flow,” he said. “Or, they could have tossed in a few hundred million dollars for truck parking projects, so more truckers would have a safe place to park while they work long hours.”
“We’ve heard them praising truckers all year as essential heroes during the pandemic,” he added in the statement. “And now here we are with a spending package that benefits nearly every other sector of transportation except those that have been keeping goods moving this whole time.”
Taylor, in her email to FreightWaves, said “the options we suggested would apply equally to all. Congress could have likely included trucking tax cuts.”
She added that 2020 has not been a good 12 months despite the high freight rates at the end of the year. “Freight rates don’t single handedly make everything rosy,” she said. “Owner operators have had a bad year overall.”
The break for logging drivers is part of a broader package of assistance for the logging industry. It provides the Secretary of Agriculture with $200 million to “provide relief” to both the timber harvesting and hauling business. It sets guidelines: the business must have suffered a loss of 10 percent or more in gross revenue between January 1 and December 1 compared to 2019.
The irony in the aid to timber producers is that the end product of that timber — lumber — has had a year similar to trucking rates: a relatively stable first two months, a plunge through April and a soaring market after that which numerous reports say is driving up the cost of new construction.
But even within the provision granting possible relief to lumber harvesters and haulers lies the basis for some of the objections that OOIDA is making: targeted aid for several industries but none specifically targeted for drivers. While the section granting the $200 million to the Secretary of Agriculture starts with timber, it branches out from there, and allows payments to producers of advanced biofuels, biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel or renewable fuel “for unexpected market losses as a result of COVID-19.”
The COVID relief package was passed in conjunction with the omnibus spending bill that funds the federal government going forward. There are provisions in the omnibus bill that have been confused in some reporting with the COVID relief package.
There are parts of the omnibus spending bill that don’t appear favorable for the trucking industry. For example, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) received $49.1 billion, which is $1.5 billion less than the request of the Trump administration and $166 million less than what was authorized for 2020.
But spending was restored to what the FHWA budget calls discretionary highway infrastructure programs. Congress put $2 billion back into that, which is $166 million less than what was enacted for 2020. But it is a big jump from the Trump administration’s recommendation, which was to zero it out.
The budget for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the nation’s key trucking regulator, rose to $748 million, $69 million more than the 2020 authorization but $46 million less than the Trump administration request.