On June 9, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee held a timely hearing titled, “On the Front Lines: The Impacts of COVID-19 on Transportation Workers.” The hearing centered on the health and wellbeing of transportation workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular focus on their ability to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) throughout the crisis.
Witnesses testified regarding the difficulties obtaining these supplies, especially for truck drivers who are traveling over-the-road for many days at a time and who infrequently return to a main terminal location to stock up. When they are away from home, they face the same difficulties as everyday citizens in finding masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and other necessities to stay healthy. But these drivers have the extra inconvenience of not having a fixed address where they could have these products shipped in an expedient fashion.
The members of the committee were rightfully concerned about the difficulties that truck drivers, along with many other types of transportation workers, have in obtaining adequate PPE. Some members suggested that the next economic stimulus package contain provisions to ensure these items are easily available to the transportation community. This stimulus bill, which has been dubbed the HEROES Act, passed through the House in mid-May and includes nearly $1 trillion for state and local governments, a second round of direct payments to individuals, $200 billion in hazard pay for essential workers, and $75 billion for COVID-19 testing efforts. It also includes language to streamline the federal government’s efforts to procure and distribute PPE to essential employees.
The HEROES Act can be interpreted as a first volley by the House to start the conversation about how to move forward. Many “wish list” items were included which will almost certainly not make it into a final bill. While the Senate has not yet taken up the HEROES Act, the Trump Administration is signaling that it would like to see some version of a stimulus bill move quickly. During recent congressional testimony, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Administration is “seriously looking” at more stimulus.
It remains to be seen whether additional PPE-related measures make it into the next stimulus bill. However, overall, this pandemic and the important conversations that have happened as a result will ensure that our critical infrastructure workers in the transportation industry will be better equipped with PPE if another virus threatens our country in the future.