Since it first entered the United States, the coronavirus has upended life across America. But through all the turmoil and uncertainty, truckers have forged ahead. While everything around us seems turned upside down, American trucking remains one absolute, steady constant.
We hear the term ‘essential’ more frequently as of late, as truckers receive high praise and widespread recognition for their heroism during this crisis. Americans are opening their eyes to the gravity of what essential really means. The President of the United States perhaps said it best last week, when he proclaimed from the south lawn of the White House: “Thank God for Truckers.”
Amen. Truckers are the difference between store shelves getting restocked and remaining empty. They’re why doctors and nurses have PPE to protect themselves while treating the sick. They’re how test kits get to the high-impact areas so local officials can mitigate the virus’ spread.
As crucial as they’ve been in responding to the outbreak and curbing its impact, truckers will be just pivotal now as we turn toward recovery. Trucks have kept rolling while the rest of the country stays locked down, and they’ll remain at the forefront when called to power our economy back up.
I’ve been honored to be named by President Trump to his administration’s Great American Revival council, along with four ATA member-company CEOs. This initiative is drawing on executives and experts from across the private sector to best inform decision makers on the country’s transition from crisis to recovery. This is exactly the right approach.
Truckers by nature are problem solvers. They don’t complain about problems—they propose concrete solutions. Rather than pointing to obstacles, they work to clear the way forward.
This has been on full display throughout this crisis, as ATA fleets and their millions of drivers have engaged decision makers at all levels of government to receive immediate regulatory relief and remove barriers erected by ill-conceived policies that impede our ability to deliver for our customers and the American people.
Watch: Professional truck driver Ron Round of Pottle's Transportation, Hermon, Maine, featured on Tucker Carlson Tonight in a segment paying tribute to America's truckers.
That same spirit, grit and fortitude will propel our country forward, safely and swiftly, as we bridge from crisis to recovery. It’s why the President has called on us to lead the way. Truckers hold the keys to restarting America’s economic engine, and on the backs of trucks is how we’ll get from here to there.
But it’s up to policymakers in both Congress and the federal agencies to provide a stable foundation of support. The task before us is paramount, and the stakes could not be higher. The livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans hang in the balance. The center of gravity of our entire economy rests on this bridge and its underlying supports.
Here are three pillars we urge federal officials in Congress and the administration to consider:
1. Prioritize PPE and access to testing for truckers and supply-chain workers.
As we’ve said from Day One of this crisis: protecting the supply-chain is critical. If our workforce were compromised, our ability to move goods, both regionally and nationally, would be jeopardized—with the potential to trigger major disruptions to essential supply lines.
We are coordinating closely with FMCSA as more widespread testing comes online. As more data informs where cases are trending by regions, states and localities, we can best channel federal and industry resources accordingly, and facilitate distribution of PPE to those carriers and drivers operating in higher-risk areas. As Congress considers COVID-19 assistance legislation, it should work with agencies to ensure the resources and authorities are sufficient to support these efforts.
Outside government action, we at ATA have taken the initiative. To date, we have provided 4,000 face coverings at no cost to small and mid-size member carriers that, due to their size, are unable to purchase these supplies in bulk. We have now acquired an additional 100,000 face coverings, which are being distributed through our federation of state associations and directly to member carriers at cost. Furthermore, we have partnered with Protective Insurance to distribute 10 55-gallon drums of hand sanitizer along major freight corridors across the U.S.
2. Keep liquidity flowing into the market.
Truckers live by the value of hard work. They don’t seek handouts. "Bailouts" to our industry do little to ensure the survival of motor carriers if there are no customers left for us to serve.
That’s why ATA has focused our advocacy efforts on ensuring there’s ample liquidity throughout the market so that small and medium size businesses – our customers – can weather this storm and come through the other side still standing. It’s critical that Congress keep funds flowing for the Paycheck Protection Program and other small business loan programs, which millions of employers are relying on to keep their businesses afloat and employees paid.
3. Invest in infrastructure.
Underfunded roads and bridges are choking the nation’s supply lines, making it costlier and more time consuming to get goods to market. They’re costing motorists $1,600 annually in wasted gas, lost wages and vehicle damage. The typical motorist wastes 42 hours of their lives every year sitting in traffic, and the trucking industry loses 1.2 billion hours of productivity to congestion.
Absent urgent action, this will be our next big crisis – one that’s been decades in the making – because of lapsing investments, degrading roads and bridges and exploding national debt. America’s truckers, farmers, business and labor communities stand together in calling in calling on Congress and the President to fund a comprehensive infrastructure bill this year.
No policy is more primed to reenergize the economy than this. Infrastructure directly touches every industry, business and individual American. It the near term, it would create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs for the countless workers who have been displaced by the COVID-19 crisis. And it would provide a foundation for long-term economic growth, revitalizing are arteries of commerce for the 21st century.
With gas prices now at extreme lows, Congress is presented with a historic opportunity to pass a major economic recovery package that is fully paid for. Whereas the previous phases of COVID-19 relief legislation has sent our national debt soaring to dangerous levels, infrastructure investment can provide immediate and long-term stimulus without adding a dime to the federal deficit.
The debt tonnage we’re dropping at the feet of our children and grandchildren’s is unconscionable, and we risk this becoming COVID-19 lasting impact for decades to come. We can deny it that legacy, and jumpstart our economy, by starting with infrastructure.
The transition from crisis to recovery will not happen overnight. It’ll happen in stages, staggered by region and driven by data. But just as we’ve been through every phase of this national crisis, ATA and our members are now in position to shape this outcome. As Congress considers its next move, they’d be wise to follow trucking’s lead.