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Hotels, Hospitality Union Urge Passage Of COVID-19 Relief Bill

By Joyce Hanson · May 3, 2021, 10:01 PM EDT

The American Hotel & Lodging Association and hospitality workers' union Unite Here have joined to ask Congress to pass the Save Hotel Jobs Act, a measure designed to throw a lifeline to employees struggling to survive until the travel industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., have introduced the bill that seeks direct payroll grants for hotels to pass on to laid-off employees along with recall rights ensuring that people who have lost their jobs due to the crisis can return to work when hotels get back up to speed, according to a Thursday statement from the AHLA and Unite Here.

The Save Hotel Jobs Act also proposes a personal protective equipment tax credit, which would promote worker safety measures and allow for a payroll tax credit for 50% of costs associated with the purchase of PPE, increased testing for employees and enhanced cleaning protocols.

Unite Here President D. Taylor said in a statement that the need for outright grants is dire, with 98% of the union's membership of 300,000 employees having been laid off at the peak of the coronavirus-related shutdowns and more than 70% still out of work today.

"The Save Hotel Jobs Act will provide important assistance in bringing back good hospitality jobs and making sure that workers who were laid off during the pandemic are recalled back to work," Taylor said.

A dollar figure for grant relief sought wasn't immediately available. Representatives for the AHLA and Unite Here did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the leisure and hospitality sector lost 3.1 million jobs during the pandemic that have yet to return, representing more than a third of all unemployed people in the United States, according to the AHLA. And projected industry job losses for 2021 show that hotels will end 2021 down 500,000 jobs, the trade group said Monday.

Hotels are the only major hospitality and leisure segment that haven't received direct aid, compared with airlines, which have received $40 billion in targeted federal aid, and live events, which have received $16 billion, the AHLA said.

The group also pointed to restaurants, which on March 11 won President Joe Biden's quick approval of a $28.6 billion package of COVID-19 relief funds in the first federal grant program available to help struggling restaurants and bars since the pandemic began.

Biden signed the Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant program, run by the Small Business Administration, after it passed the U.S. House on a 220-211 vote a day earlier as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill known as the American Rescue Plan.

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the AHLA, said in a statement Thursday that no industry has been more affected by the pandemic than hospitality, and he thanked Schatz and Crist for introducing the hotel jobs measure.

"Millions of jobs and thousands of businesses are at risk — not just hotels, but the many businesses and workers hotels also support in the community," Rogers said. "Congress must step up now to support the hotel industry workforce with targeted relief."

The groups said urban hotels have been especially hard hit during the crisis because they rely on business and group travel and are more likely to host large events.

Urban hotels' room revenue was down 66% in January compared with the same month in 2020, and that figure doesn't include lost revenue from groups, meetings, and food and beverage, they said.

Recent reports show that New York City has lost one-third of its hotel rooms, approximately 42,000, due to the pandemic, with nearly 200 hotels closing permanently, according to the groups.

"The pandemic has left millions of hotel employees out of work and many more struggling to get by with less hours. They need help," Schatz said in a statement. "Our bill creates a new grant program that will bring back hotel jobs, pay workers, and help our economy recover."

--Editing by Bruce Goldman.

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