For many of us, 2020 was the most difficult year our industry has ever faced – and that’s saying a lot, considering the massive disruptions, suicides, and financial instability of the past decade. I would, in fact, say it was one of the most devastating years our nation has ever faced… and certainly the worst in generations on many levels.

Although hoping for a year that’s better than 2020 is a disturbingly low bar to meet, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about 2021.

First and foremost, Covid-19 vaccinations began being administered in mid-December to staffers at New York City’s public hospitals, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called on the state’s Department of Financial Services to require plans to cover the entire cost – so they will be free to all. The Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC) and the International Association of Transportation Regulators (IATR) have been among the organizations advocating for drivers in our industry to be prioritized for the vaccine, and I STRONGLY URGE everyone to get their vaccine as soon as they are able. Vaccines will initially be in short supply, so don’t wait.

According to the BCAC’s Executive Director, Ira Goldstein, “We strongly supported including passenger ground transportation workers among those given high vaccine priority because they are both in industries essential to the functioning of society and at high risk of exposure.”

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which develops recommendations on how to use vaccines to control disease in the United States, proposed that workers in essential and critical industries – like education, food, transportation, and law enforcement – be part of Phase 1b, just behind health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities (nursing homes). Adults with high-risk medical conditions and those over the age of 65 will be part of Phase 1c. After that comes Phases 2 and then 3.

There has been much disinformation about the vaccine, so please read our article about its safety and efficacy on page (????).

We still have a long road ahead, but the vaccinations are a big step toward normalcy, and we all could use a little of that.

Stimulus Package

After significant negotiations and a great deal of unfortunate politicization during the process, the new economic stimulus package was finally signed in late December, and checks/direct deposits are due to go out ASAP. Currently, the legislation calls for $600 per adult from the federal government – although there have been additional negotiations asking that the number be raised to $2,000.

According to the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC), one-time payments of $600 will go out to individuals who earn less than $75,000 per year, or $1,200 for married couples earning below $150,000. Those earning between $75,000 and $99,000 may still be entitled to a reduced payment.

Additionally, “If you are receiving New York State unemployment benefits, either as an employee or independent contractor, you may receive an additional $300 weekly federal unemployment insurance payment, beginning in early 2021 and through March 2021,” the TLC Tweeted in late December.

The following websites can offer more details:

  • If you want to apply for unemployment benefits or see if you are eligible, visit ny.gov.
  • If you need info on financial assistance, unemployment benefits, resolving housing issues, health care, or medical insurance, visit nyc.gov/3hRxbSc.
  • NY State will also make additional Rent Relief Program payments. If you lost income due to Covid-19 between March and July 2020, you can apply for a one-month rent subsidy from the State Rent Relief Program if you apply by Feb. 1, 2021. Funds for rental relief are limited and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, and made directly to landlords. Information on the program can be found here: ny.gov/3rhTF4W.
  • If you are a small business, including a base or medallion owner, you may be eligible for a no-interest PPP loan to help you make payroll and cover rent, utilities, mortgage, or other business expenses. Learn more at SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) | Empire State Development (ny.gov)

Windels Marx has been closely following the progress of the new federal benefits package and the specifics relating to the transportation industry. Matthew W. Daus, Esq., Partner and Chairman of the firm’s Transportation Practice Group, noted that “The new COVID-19 relief package… allocates an additional $284.45 billion in lending to eligible businesses.” The following are some of the key changes that will be made to the PPP loan program:

  • Businesses may now take a second PPP loan. Businesses that received a PPP loan when the program first went into effect now may apply for a “second draw,” so long as they are not public companies, do not employ more than 300 people, and can show at least a 25% drop in gross receipts in the first, second or third quarters of 2020, compared to the same quarter in 2019. No loan may exceed $2 million, down from the $10 million original PPP loan amount cap.
  • The forgiveness process for loans under $150,000 has been streamlined. To have a PPP loan forgiven, businesses that borrowed $150,000 or less will simply need to submit a one-page certification that includes the number of employees the business retained as a result of the loan, an estimate of how much of the loan was spent on payroll and the total loan amount.
  • The tax break on business expenses is significant. The latest COVID relief package clarifies that if the loan is forgiven, payroll and operating expenses will be treated as tax-free to the business.

Relief for Traditional Bases

On December 2, the TLC voted to approve a couple of corrections to what were initially mistakes in the rulemaking when the category of High-Volume For-Hire Vehicle (HVFHV) bases was established. Since HVFHV bases were initially categorized as cooperatives, some traditional cooperative bases were being lumped in with them and forced to follow rules that would have crushed them.

According to Goldstein, “A specific section of the miscellaneous cleanup rules initially brought a serious concern to the Black Car Assistance Corporation. We wanted to make sure traditional black car bases could continue their previously agreed-upon pay schedules, as well as the standard practice of passing along summonses to drivers. HVFHV bases were meant to be excluded from these practices because their business models are very different.”

Traditional black car bases generally work with corporate accounts that pay on terms, while HVFHV bases receive payment electronically and instantly. Because of this, Black Car bases require a little leeway in the amount of time they get to ensure all drivers are paid. It’s how it has always been done.

“While most traditional bases are franchises, the language of the original cleanup rules sought to exclude ALL cooperative bases from the practices mentioned above,” explained Goldstein. “This would have unfairly targeted some traditional bases and created an unfair playing field within this industry. This was not the TLC’s intent, so the BCAC drafted legislative language to ensure that both franchise and cooperative model traditional bases would be on equal footing. When the rules were passed earlier this month, they included our updated language.”

Kudos to the BCAC for standing up for traditional Black Car bases that would otherwise have been shuttered, due to rules that were never meant to involve them.

With 2020 behind us, we are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Please continue to follow all Covid-19 protocols, stay safe and well… and Best Wishes to all for a Better Year Ahead!

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Article by Neil Weiss

Neil Weiss is the Editor/Publisher/Owner of Black Car News and Livery Times. He has been involved in the ground transportation industry since 1991, writing thousands of articles on a wide variety of subjects.

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